Historically, sovereign immunity protected federal and state governments and their employees from being sued without their consent. However, in modern times the trend has been toward holding government accountable. For example, the Federal Tort Claims Act waives immunity to suit and liability for some actions. Many states followed this federal lead by enacting state statutes that limited immunity for state government entities and employees. These statutes are known as State Tort Claims Acts.
Some State Claims Acts limit immunity and establish a procedure for making claims against the state; a handful of states take this approach. At least 33 states’ acts limit or “cap” the monetary amount of damages that may be recovered from judgments against the state, and at least 29 states include a prohibition against punitive or exemplary damages.
In 1979, the Colorado state legislature enacted the Colorado Government Immunity Act (GIA). The GIA limited the government’s immunity, allowing it to be liable for certain actions, but also protected the government by placing a cap on the amount of damages that could be awarded to claimants. On April 19, 2013, Governor Hickenlooper signed SB 13-023 into law, which amends Colorado’s GIA. The amendment increases the caps on damages from $150,000 to $350,000 for single claims and $600,000 to $999,000 for multiple claims. The increases became effective on July 1, 2013. For more information on how the amendments to Colorado’s GIA may apply to you or any claim you may have against the government and it’s an employee(s), contact your Denver personal injury attorney.
Increasing the caps on damages for claims against the government is very controversial. Some argue that keeping caps low reduce awards to claimants and therefore deters lawsuits. However, such deterrence may lead to lax standards of care and behavior by government employees. Those in favor of increased caps on damages argue that the higher amounts reflect more accurate compensation for the personal injuries sustained and that people will have more incentive to bring claims if they are adequately compensated, which in turn will encourage a higher standard of professionalism among government employees. An additional argument is that claimants will be more able to find attorneys to represent them if the amount of the award is potentially larger; many personal injuries and wrongful death cases brought against the government are litigated on a contingent fee basis where the attorney is paid a percentage of the award.
These arguments are part of a broader debate over tort reform that is being fought on the national level. The debate goes beyond the amount of compensation and lawsuits; it includes constitutional issues. For example, a court in Missouri struck down the state’s non-economic damages cap of $350,000, stating that it violated a plaintiff’s constitutional right to have a jury determine the amount of damages that are to be awarded.
The increased caps to Colorado’s Government Immunity Act have only been law for a little over 3 months. It will be interesting to see what effect the amendments will have on future litigation. If you think you have a claim against the government or its employees, contact your Denver personal injury attorney at Levine Law to ensure your rights are protected.