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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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March 22, 1999: Starting Gold Panning; Reasonable Risks in Sports Participation

Q: Rumor has it that you have had success as a recreational gold panner. Legally, what do I need to do to get started?

A: Your question has been the second most asked of me (the first has been some variation on what is the "truth" about living trusts). As of right now, and as long as you use a gold pan, not much legally is required to get started. But act quickly because the days are numbered when anyone can go out and find gold on public land.

Already there are several areas in Colorado where you can not legally prospect. For other areas, you might need a permit and an "environmental impact statement," especially if you try to use a "sluice box" and not a pan. But just call the BLM, national forest office, or the appropriate state agency to determine the rules and regulations in the area that you intend to explore. Even if nothing is required, as a courtesy, let the local officials know when you will be panning. Also be sure not to trespass on private or mineral claims.

But before you go, explore the history of the area (go where gold was previously found) and practice over a tub of water (use your pan to try to separate beebees from rock and gravel) and I predict you may be very financially surprised when you do try.

But, also be environmentally responsible. Do not dig into river banks, fill any holes you make, and be sensitive to where people are trying to fish (more so for your noise since any muddy water you may trigger will almost always be a non- factor).

And finally yes, it is possible to find gold (usually flour gold but also occasionally flakes) in and around Fort Collins. But your best success in Colorado will be the 60 by 200 mile golden rectangle that runs diagonally from west of Boulder to Durango.

Q: My women's soccer team challenged a men's team to a match. But while I was warming up, two men literally "blind sided" me and "took me out." I have been in extreme pain and probably won't be able to ski for the rest of the season. I am furious!!

A: Participation in an athletic contest will not give a person license to do "anything" that he or she can get away with, nor grant total immunity from either civil liability or even possible criminal prosecution for outrageous conduct, especially if such conduct appeared to be premeditated. Although in this incident I am not implying that the D.A. would or should proceed criminally, it is always a possibility given the right set of facts. But in a civil suit if the perpetrators are found liable, they could be held responsible for not only medical expenses, but also for pain and suffering. And if intentional factors are found to be present (especially in the extreme), then punitive damages are also possible.

For cynics, this may just represent another example of attorneys stirring up law suits. But when a person decides to participate in sports, should he or she be forced to assume this kind of risk in this kind of situation?

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