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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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October 3, 2000: Baseball Dangers; Protecting Farm from Death Taxes; Lease Options

Q: If I go to Coors Stadium and get hit by a ball, can I sue?

A: A number of you have asked that question but I have not had column space available to include a response before now. But wouldn't you know it, just as I was writing this column I noticed that Charles Roos had a column in the Denver Rocky Mountain News on Monday touching on this very subject. But what the heck! Here it goes anyway.

The general rule is that a spectator assumes the risk of injury at a sporting event, except for intentional or grossly negligent conduct or unreasonably unsafe conditions. Many teams also print a disclaimer on tickets, but the legal effectiveness of the latter is problematic.

The legislature codified the general rules into a statute called the "Colorado Baseball Spectator Safety Act of 1993." Several of my Denver friends who consider themselves "sports attorneys" expressed to me the opinion that the statute really didn't add much to the existing general law. But the Act is there in the Colorado Revised Statutes.

According to columnist Roos, 40 to 50 ball or bat injuries occur each season at Coors, but no law suits are pending. So take that glove with you when you go out to the old ball game for your own protection (pretending you really want to snag a foul ball) and don't ever take your eyes off any batter.

Q: We went to a political rally sponsored by our farm organization where the politicians and other speakers all said that keeping the farm in the family was doomed unless farmers are exempt from "death taxes." But we came to you and I thought you said that we are OK.

A: Thank you for letting me use your question in this column. First, you are a typical multimillionaire farm family, so your situation is not an aberration and your solutions apply across the board, at least in the agricultural community.

Each of you did a tax will that cost several hundred dollars apiece. In addition you did a limited liability company (LLC) for several hundred dollars (which, for business reasons, your CPA had been wanting you to do for years anyway).

As a result, no "death taxes" will be collected if either or both of you die. And as your net worth continues to rise, your estate still will not have to pay any taxes if we do, in addition to the tax wills and the LLC, things like gifting trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, and maybe even a charitable remainder trust. And remember, if "death taxes" do die, then you can easily and inexpensively exit your existing documents if need be – the tax wills and LLC.

Thus, right now you can pass on your farm-connected millions because you responsibly did your estate planning, so relax. And remember, there are any number of attorneys throughout northern Colorado that would have done the same thing for you.

Q: Our landlord refuses to give us a month-to-month lease. I don't want to get locked in if things don't work out.

A: Unless you know and trust your landlord, a month-to-month lease will leave you exposed.

Your landlord can give you notice any time up to 10 days before the next rent check is due and legally force you to vacate, to pay more rent, to accept different lease terms, etc. If you don't comply, then you will only have about 10 days to move…not a lot of time.

Even though you are unhappy with a lease, you still may have options. You can find someone else to take it over, or negotiate with the landlord, or maybe even use the problem to show a breach of the lease by your landlord. And using the equity rule of mitigation of damages, it might be possible to be released from the remainder of your lease by making one or two additional rent payments which should provide a reasonable time for the landlord to find another tenant even though there is time left on the lease. Thereafter, if the landlord fails to act, the equity rule releases you from paying for the rest of the lease because the landlord did not take reasonable steps to minimize his or her damages.

I have had mixed success with the latter equity rule argument which normally depends on the receptiveness of the Judge to equitable arguments. But it is there to be used.

So sign a lease. Time will probably fly by much faster than you anticipate.

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