Bill that doubles state's liability headed to governor's desk

March 25, 2013
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DENVER — The House voted unanimously Monday to double what the state can pay out in civil lawsuits when government workers are found responsible for damages.

Previously the government immunity cap was set at $150,000 for any individual and $600,000 for any single incident.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said the loss of life and property in the Lower North Fork fire, which sparked from a state-led controlled burn, made it very clear that those limits were completely inadequate.

Under the law at the time of the fire, families of the three people killed and owners of the 23 homes destroyed, would have had to share $600,000 when damages were estimated to be around $11 million.

“It’s not fair to people who are injured through governmental negligence to leave them without adequate compensation,” Levy said. “If you’re injured in a car accident by a private citizen you can recover against their insurance and if that’s inadequate you can recover against their assets… if the person who T-bones you happens to be on governmental business, your injuries are going to be as severe, but there’s this artificial, arbitrary limit of $150,000.”

Senate Bill 23 raises that limit to $350,000 for any single individual and $990,000 for any single incident.

“It’s still not adequate,” Levy said. “Colorado is still not a generous state.”

But going forward, she said, it’s a step in the right direction.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, but if signed it won’t apply retroactively to previous incidents.

The Lower North Fork fire was almost exactly a year-ago, and Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, reminded lawmakers that those victims have not received a dime from the government.

“To date those victims have got nothing. They haven’t even gotten further admittance of guilt,” Gerou said. “I don’t want anyone to take any comfort in thinking we have taken care of the Lower North Fork fire victims, because we have not.”

The claims for those losses are making their way through a legal process that was established by lawmakers last session, in part so those victims wouldn’t be subjected to the cap.

Victims from the fire will be at the Capitol Tuesday to talk with media about the slow process in realizing a settlement for their claims.

Levy said some states don’t have caps, which could leave a state vulnerable to huge catastrophic damages.

“There is a limit to what taxpayers can afford,” Levy said.

In the Senate, where the bill also pass unanimously, the bill was sponsored by Democratic Senate President John Morse and Republican Leader Bill Cadman, both of Colorado Springs.

Contact Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644 Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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