In that case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $7.3 million verdict awarded to a cyclist who was gravely injured when he rode into a sinkhole on a path at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A worker had taken photos of the washout before the accident but not alerted others, and the court found that amounted to ‘willful or malicious’ failure to warn of a ‘known’ danger, an exception under a Colorado statute that gives broad immunity to private property owners who allow public recreation on their land for no charge.”

In other words, landowners were suddenly responsible—more than they had thought—for injuries that could be shown to stem from “willful or malicious”  behavior on their part—and suddenly the definitions of such behavior had broadened considerably.

The result: a lot of closed mountaintops.

Is there an alternative? Yes, according to economist John Goodman: “People need to be able to forgo any liability claim they might have by contract. In other words, ‘if you will allow me to traverse your property, I waive all claims against you in case I am injured,'” he wrote in an email.

It seems simple. The problem, says Goodman, is that courts have not treated such contracts favorably. “Courts need to honor these contracts. In general, the courts have made it hard to contract away liability claims.” Signing an agreement that the mountain climber is responsible for his or her injuries does not necessarily remove the owner’s responsibility. There’s the rub.

Image of Colorado’s Pike’s Peak by Beverly Lussier on Pixabay. The peak is 14,115 feet high.