Understanding Governmental Immunity from Liability

Posted by Jeremy Rosenthal | Oct 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Courts and lawmakers recently have presented challenges to Colorado's Government Immunity Act (CGIA), which was established in 1971. Viewing the law historically, in 1946 the federal government passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), permitting suits against the government in the federal courts. The act is interwoven with laws at the state level, as federal courts have jurisdiction for claims, but individual state laws are applied according to “"where the act or omission occurred." Factors encouraging legislation included:

  • Citizens seeking greater accountability for government action (or inaction).
  • The 1945 “Texas City Disaster” where a French ship explosion caused mass destruction and (500+) casualties, leading to the first class action lawsuit against the US Government. Although the suit was ultimately unsuccessful, it contributed to public sentiment for greater government accountability.
  • A military aircraft traveling through fog hit the Empire State Building in 1945; although the government offered financial reparations to the victims, many pushed for lawsuits.

The CGIA established immunity from suit against certain public entities and employees, but allowed for waivers and exceptions in certain cases. The reasoning for immunity included:

  • The state is responsibility for critical public services and unlimited liability exposure could hinder the ability to affordably maintain them.
  • Unlimited liability places a large financial burden on taxpayers.
  • To avoid discouraging the state's efforts to advance needed services and law enforcement.

Circumstances When Governmental Immunity is Waived for Injuries

  • Caused in connection with a publicly owned or leased motor vehicle operated by a public employee while working.
    • Exceptions apply to emergency vehicles in many cases.
    • No waiver of immunity applies for police vehicles pursuing suspects in most cases.
  • Public hospitals, jails, and prisons.
  • Incidents involving public buildings determined to be in a dangerous condition, presenting unreasonable risks to public safety.
  • Caused in connection with dangerous public roadway conditions
  • Caused by failure to maintain roadway signs and traffic control devices
  • Accumulation of snow or ice preventing access on public walks and entrances that the responsible public entity was aware of.
  • Dangerous conditions in a public hospital, jail, park, or recreation area under public care; including public utility sites or swimming facilities.
  • Associated with state capital assets, such as technical equipment.
  • Failure in performing employee background checks.
  • Destruction or seizure of recordings in incidents involving a peace officer. (2016)

In suits involving governmental liability the Plaintiff must prove a basis for waiver of immunity. These processes, known as “Trinity” hearings, are conducted before proceeding with the case and are decided by a judge. Individual public employees are generally immune unless it is determined they demonstrated “willful or wanton” conduct. This high standard proves that conduct was purposefully dangerous, demonstrating recklessness toward the safety or rights of others.

The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal is focused exclusively on protecting the rights of those victimized from actions, conduct or negligence of individuals or entities in Colorado. Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal maintains a client-centric approach which delivers results. Contact the office today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenthal

Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is dedicated to helping his clients seek just compensation for their injuries regardless of the lengths he has to go to or the distances he may have to travel in order to get it.

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