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Otteson v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
622 F.2d 516 (1980)


Facts

Stacey Otteson was a passenger in a jeep that slid on an icy road in the San Juan National Forest, located in Colorado. Otteson and the driver were killed after the jeep rolled down an embankment. The road was constructed and maintained by the United States government (government) (defendant) to facilitate timber harvesting. Otteson’s estate (Otteson) (plaintiff) brought a wrongful-death action against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) and 2671 et seq. Otteson claimed that the government negligently failed to maintain the road free of ice, to warn of road hazards, and to close the road when it became unsafe. The government claimed immunity from the FTCA, arguing that road design and maintenance were discretionary functions and that Colorado’s sightseer statute, Colorado Revised Statutes §§ 33-41-101 et seq., applied to the government. The sightseer statute provided that private, rural landowners who allowed the public to access their land for recreation were liable only for the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against known, dangerous conditions. The trial court found that the sightseer statute applied to the government, and that the government had not waived its immunity under the FTCA. Otteson appealed, arguing that the sightseer statute did not apply, because the government was in the position of a political subdivision rather than a private individual with respect to the duty to maintain public roads. Specifically, Otteson claimed that the government’s duty to maintain national forests as public recreational areas required the government to maintain forest roads for recreational use.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Seymour, J.)

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