When it come to pursuing justice and fair compensation following an injury accident, the path for victims is often relatively straightforward, if not always easy. When another party’s negligence produces serious harm and calculable losses, the law affords the injured an opportunity to seek redress through the courts. When the allegedly responsible party is a governmental entity of one type or another, however, the process can become somewhat more complex and the opportunity to seek monetary recovery limited by a number of factors. If your injuries were caused by the negligent acts or omissions of a governmental body, Denver personal injury attorney Jeremy Rosenthal stands ready and willing to examine the facts and determine the steps necessary to secure the resources you need and in fact deserve.
Governmental Immunity in Colorado
The concept of governmental immunity protects governmental agencies and actors from being sued by individuals for damages sustained in certain kinds of situations. It should be noted, however, that this type of immunity is statutorily created and can also be waived under certain circumstances. Broadly speaking, the Colorado legislature has broadly barred claims against the government, though it may be possible to pursue claims in personal injury cases involving:
- dangerous conditions at public facilities
- negligent operation of a vehicle by a public employee while conducting official business
- operation of correctional facilities or hospitals
- operation of a public water facility, electrical facility power generating facility or the like
- dangerous conditions on public highways, roads or streets
- dangerous accumulations of ice or snow on public
Emergency Vehicle Accidents in Colorado
A common scenario in which a plaintiff may seek to pursue claims against a governmental entity involves accidents in which an emergency vehicle becomes entangled in a collision, producing harm. While the doctrine of governmental immunity will generally apply to fire trucks, police cruisers, ambulances and other similar vehicles when they are providing official services, there are situations in which compensation may still be available.
Emergency vehicles such as those described above are given substantial freedom to perform their duties, and they may break traffic rules when interests of expedience dictate, their operators are still required to exercise a reasonable degree of care so that harm to innocent individuals is prevented. Governmental employees who drive recklessly in light of the surrounding circumstances and ultimately cause injuries be found negligent and victims may recover significant compensation.
Faulty or Neglected Road Maintenance by Governmental Entities
When a governmental body fails in its duty to maintain roads in safe condition, an exception to the general grant of immunity may also apply. Breaches of this category of responsibility regularly include:
- failure to remedy potholes as needed
- failure to keep traffic signals functional
- failure to remove accumulations of snow and ice
- failure to repair damaged guardrails and medians
- failure to address need for additional traffic control mechanisms
- failure to address serious structural issues with bridges
- failure to mow dangerous plant or grass overgrowth
Road Design Defect Claims
There may also be instances in which faulty road design can produce legitimate claims against governmental entities. The responsible agencies themselves and/or the contractors they hire may share in liability for injuries stemming from things such as:
- absence of road shoulder space
- faulty lighting allocation
- lack of guardrails near drop-offs
- excessively steep grading
- narrow lanes
Notice Requirements for Colorado Plaintiffs
Just as the situations that may give rise to a suit against a governmental body are strictly limited, there are also stringent filing requirements plaintiffs must observe if they are to preserve their right to seek compensation. Most importantly, a plaintiff must file special notice in order to bring claims against a governmental body, and must do so within 180 days of the date upon which the injury was discovered. This is designed to afford the governmental entity with an opportunity to investigate the facts and cure any dangerous condition. Notices of this nature need to include the name and address of the claimant, the factual basis of the injury claim, the date of alleged injury, and the amount of compensation desired. Once the notice has been filed, injury victims must wait an additional 90 days or more before they will be permitted to file suit, unless the governmental agency denies the claim before that period.
Colorado Statutory Damage Limits
It is worth noting that the Colorado legislature has placed a cap on the amount of damages a plaintiff can obtain in vehicle accidents involving on-the-job governmental employees. Currently, there is a single occurrence limit of $350,000 for a single person and $990,000 for multiple victims. Punitive damages are not permitted under any circumstance.
Federal Governmental Immunity Considerations
The procedure for seeking damages stemming from accidents involving federal entities is quite similar to that in which state agents are implicated. The Federal Tort Claims Act will apply in such instances, requiring that victims file administrative claims with the relevant agency within 2 years of the incident in question, and that agency will generally be afforded six months during which it must respond. If no response is forthcoming or a denial of claim is issued, plaintiffs must file suit within the subsequent six months.
Why File Suit Against a Governmental Body
The types of injuries sustainable in each of the accident types outlined above can be truly debilitating for the victims themselves, but also for their families. That is why those harmed by the negligent acts and omissions of governmental entities deserve an opportunity to seek full and fair financial compensation. The filing of a lawsuit is often the best method of obtaining payment for losses that may include:
- medical expenses
- hospitalization costs
- therapy-related expenses
- lost wages
- reduced earning capacity
- physical pain
- emotional trauma
- lost financial support for surviving dependents
Helping Coloradans Pursue Accountability
Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is fully committed to guiding injury victims through the process of seeking justice, whether their harm was caused by private individuals or negligent governmental actors. If you or someone you love is struggling in the aftermath of a serious accident, now is the time to act. To learn more about the process of holding responsible parties accountable for your losses, contact us at 303.825.2223.