Colorado Enacts Liability Immunity Law for Volunteers – And, Meet CO Partner Scott Jones!

This article is one in a series designed to feature NOHVCC State Partners and some of the successes they highlighted in their Partner Annual Reports.  The first-ever round of Annual Reports was a huge success. As a result, the NOHVCC Board of Directors and staff are better able to understand the great things our Partners are up to and we wanted to share some examples with the broader NOHVCC community while introducing some of our Partners as well.

Introducing Scott Jones – Colorado NOHVCC State Partner and Board Member

Scott Jones calls Longmont, Colorado home.  He has enjoyed motorized recreation all his life and has been involved in organized OHV activities for over a decade, currently serving as Vice President of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.  Like many OHV enthusiasts, Scott enjoys getting outdoors – with or without a vehicle.  He likes to camp, hunt, hike and has even dabbled a bit in rock climbing.  Scott says that many are surprised to learn he is an environmental attorney and that he considers himself an environmentalist.  Finally, Scott believes the most important thing an individual can do to create a positive future for OHV recreation is to raise awareness of all the good things the OHV community provides, like volunteers, donations, trail maintenance and positive community involvement.

Colorado Enacts Liability Immunity Law for Volunteers

OHV enthusiasts noticed that it was taking longer and longer for State grant funds to reach them after receiving approval in Colorado.  So, a group including Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO) representatives decided to examine what was creating the delays – and for a way to resolve the problem. 

It was found that finding and securing insurance was one significant hold up.  So COHVCO representatives did some research and found that Colorado was behind other States in limiting liability for clubs and volunteers.  Not only were funds delayed in getting to the ground, there were fears that OHV clubs and volunteers could be liable for damages arising years or even decades after performing trail work that was approved by the agency that managed the relevant land.  Further, it seemed that insurance requirements changed annually, making it difficult for volunteers to know how to comply.

Scott and others with COHVCO reached out to officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) – an easy thing to do as a very positive relationship had been established over years.  CPW agreed that it was time to address the insurance issue, so both parties came up with an idea for legislation. 

Leaning once again on a relationship that had been developed over time, COHVCO contacted President Pro Tempore of the Colorado Senate, Jerry Sonnenberg to carry the bill.  With his leadership, and the support of CPW the legislation passed both the full Colorado House and Senate with a total of two members of either House voting no.  That level of support for anything substantive is rare in Colorado, and probably anywhere!

According to the bill summary the new law “strengthens existing legal protections under the federal “Volunteer Protection Act of 1997” and Colorado’s “Volunteer Service Act” for individual volunteers and nonprofit entities who build or maintain recreational trails and related facilities pursuant to grants received under Colorado’s ‘Recreational Trails System Act of 1971.’”

Essentially, the law provides an increased level of negligence protections and removes several contracting requirements related to State grants for clubs performing land stewardship activities on public lands. 

The positive impacts of the law have been immediate.  It is already taking less time for grant funds to get to the ground and it is easier for volunteers to file paperwork on time. 

Scott recognized that Colorado was behind most States regarding limiting liability but noted, “Since COHVCO and others maintained positive relationships with agency personnel and with key legislators this process was much easier than it could have been.  My recommendation for all OHV enthusiasts is that they cultivate these key relationships, and when you need them it will be easier to succeed.”

The benefits of the new law in Colorado are obvious.  If you would like to attempt to replicate what COHVCO has achieved in Colorado, please contact NOHVCC at trailhead@nohvcc.org. NOHVCC staff can offer advice, and maybe even get some help from Scott and his partners!

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