*This is an update to an April 2012 blog.*
Governmental Immunity and the Damage Cap
Did you know that when the government is involved in a civil case, there is a cap on the amount of compensation you can recover? The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (GIA), codified in C.R.S. § 24-10-101 et al., shields governmental entities from tort liability. Traditionally, governments have what is called sovereign immunity or the state’s immunity from being sued in court by the state’s own citizens. However, historically, Colorado courts did not like this doctrine. So, in 1971, the legislature enacted the GIA, in which the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity was replaced by statute, providing an express waiver of immunity in particular claims, allowing for permissible claims against governmental entities with prior notice from claimant, and placing financial limits on the government’s exposure to permitted claims.
The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act specifically limits liability to $150,000 per person for a single occurrence and $600,000 total. So, even if you had ten people at trial injured by one event, each of them could recover no more than $150,000, and no more than $600,000 could be recovered in total for the entire case. See C.R.S. § 24-10-114(1). Additionally, in a wrongful death situation, under the Wrongful Death Act, that constitutes a single injury, so the claims from a spouse and other heirs would only allow for the $150,000 recovery in total, as this is a shared injury among survivors. Each survivor cannot recover up to $150,000.
Additionally, the governing board of a public entity may increase the maximum limits, but only by resolution, and this increase can of course be reduced, increased, or repealed by the governing body. See C.R.S. § 24-10-114(2). Furthermore, a public entity generally cannot be held liable for punitive or exemplary damages.
The cap mentioned above comes after a landmark decision in 1987 that was the result of a catastrophic accident. That year a boulder fell from a cliff next to a highway and smashed into a bus full of tourists. Governor Roy Romer took responsibility for not ensuring the highway was closed and promised to cover medical expenses and other costs for the families and victims.
In an unprecedented move that brought national attention, he decided that the state’s cap on the amount it would pay in damages was too low at $400,000 and raised the total by $200,000.
The cap has remained the same for almost 30 years as inflation has decreased the value of the dollar and medical costs have skyrocketed.
This is why the Personal Injury Lawyers with the McDivitt Law Firm feel it’s so important to discuss your legal options with an experienced attorney if you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence.
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