Burnett v. Dept. of Natural ResourcesAnnotate this Case
Petitioner Sarah Burnett and a friend went camping at Cherry Creek State Park. They chose a campsite under a canopy of mature cottonwood trees. "The weather that night was uneventful." Early the next morning, while petitioner and her friend remained sleeping inside their tent, a large limb dropped from one of the trees and struck both of them. The blow fractured petitioner's skull and a vertebra, and caused other injuries, including a concussion and multiple lacerations to her scalp and face. The friend suffered only minor injuries, and was able to drive petitioner to the hospital. Petitioner brought a premises liability action against the State Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, seeking compensation for her injuries, arguing the Park was a "public facility" and the branches overhanging the campsite constituted a "dangerous condition." The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the State waived its immunity for petitioner's injuries. The answer turned on whether the tree was a "natural condition...of unimproved property" under 24-10-106(1)(e) C.R.S. (2014) of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. The Court held that a "natural condition of any unimproved property" includes native trees originating on unimproved property. Because a limb from such a tree caused petitioner's injuries, the natural condition provision of the statute immunized the State in this case.