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Rieger v. Wat Buddhawararam, 338 P.3d 404, (Colo. App. 2013).

Court of Appeals of Colorado

On July 26, 2010, Martin Rieger volunteered to assist his friend and neighbor, Chris Margotta, trim a large tree on the Buddhawararam Temple’s property at no cost. Mr. Margotta, whose wife was a member of the temple, served as team leader and organizer for the event, though a group of monks observed and offered suggestions on which branches to cut. 
 
Late in the day, Mr. Rieger held a ladder for Mr. Margotta while he cut branches from the tree. As Mr. Margotta cut a branch it suddenly crashed onto the top of Mr. Rieger, which caused him serious injury, including a fractured femur.
Seeking relief for his substantial medical bills, as well as compensation for his significant pain and suffering caused by the falling tree branch, Mr. Rieger enlisted the services of attorney Mark A. Simon, Esq. After Mr. Simon was employed, Mr. Rieger witnessed the grit and determination that Mr. Simon employs to help every client receive the compensation that they deserve.

Mr. Simon quickly filed suit against the Temple for vicarious liability, which subsequently designated Mr. Margotta as a nonparty at fault. This was particularly problematic, as volunteers are immune to liability per Colorado law. However, Mr. Simon was undeterred, and maintained that the Temple remain responsible for the expenses incurred by Mr. Rieger.

Ultimately the district court granted a motion for summary judgment submitted by the Temple, refusing to extend the sound and innovative legal logic employed by Mr. Simon. First, the court, over Mr. Simon’s objections, refused to classify Mr. Rieger as an “invitee,” because Colorado law generally classified volunteers as “licensees,” even though in this case Mr. Rieger’s activity more closely resembled that of an “invitee.” The problem with this conclusion is the Colorado Property Liability Act, which constitutes the sole remedy against landowners, makes the standard for recovery much higher, almost to a point of non-recovery, for “licensees” versus “invitees.” Mr. Simon’s second and third arguments, both related to the Temple’s involvement in the supervision and direction of Mr. Margotta’s supervision and the volunteers directly, were dismissed.

Undeterred, Mr. Simon refused to accept the district court’s determination that his client was left without a remedy. Mr. Simon filed an appeal to the Colorado court system to pursue a just end to his client’s claim. The Appellate Court ultimately determined, through extensive analysis, that Mr. Rieger was a volunteer and licensee. Therefore, it denied relief for Mr. Rieger and upheld the district court’s determination.

Mr. Simon’s second and third arguments, that the Temple could be held variously liable for the Mr. Margotta’s negligence, were also denied. However, the Appellate Court did find error in the reasoning of the district court for its decisions, because the case it relied upon was not applicable to Mr. Rieger’s specific situation. Though Mr. Simon was unsuccessful in this argument, his hard work and determination to file an appeal paved the way for new, more clear, jurisprudence in Colorado regarding the Colorado Property Liability Act which is still relied upon today.

Though the Appellate Court ultimately upheld the determination of the district court, the decision was not for a lack of effort on the part of Mr. Simon. He took it upon himself to exhaust every possibility to find the relief his client deserved, but was ultimately denied because the Appellate Court chose to leave an injured party without a remedy.