Buckle up! It’s the Law. And that includes buckling up juveniles handcuffed in a sheriff’s transport van that gets into an accident. In this case, the van driver did not secure the handcuffed juveniles with seatbelts, who were tossed around the van during the accident. The juveniles sued for their injuries. The sheriff asserted immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) claiming that securing passengers was not an activity within the CGIA’s waiver of immunity for the “operation of a motor vehicle.” The court of appeals disagreed. A previous case held that immunity was waived for a passenger who slipped on ice within a public bus. Based on that case, the court found that immunity was waived because securing the juveniles was part of the “operation” of the transport van and failing to do so caused the injuries.
NOTE: On remand, the trial court denied immunity based on CRS 19-2-508. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed on appeal under CAR 21.
In the movie Philadelphia, Tom Hank’s character first meets his lawyer, Denzel Washington, as Denzel is on the phone with a potential client who wants to sue after stepping into a clearly marked hole in a city street; Denzel suggested he had a case. But, holes in streets are not the same as holes in parking lots. In this case, the trial court concluded the plaintiff could sue for an injury caused by a hole in a public parking lot. The court of appeals disagreed and held a city is immune from suit for injuries occurring in a public parking lot that services a public golf course. Colorado waives governmental immunity for personal injuries, and thus subjects cities to lawsuits for injuries caused by dangerous conditions in any park or recreation area, public streets, or public buildings. A parking lot is none of these, so the city was immune from suit. Plaintiff’s case was dismissed.
Pay attention to signs telling you to move your car for street sweeping. In this case, a street sweeper backed into a parked car and the owner sued Denver. Under the Governmental Immunity Act, if the street sweeper is a “motor vehicle,” Denver could be sued; if it is “mobile machinery” the city is immune. The two categories are mutually exclusive, and, the court held, the answer is determined by the design and use of the equipment. “Motor vehicles” are designed and used to transport people and property on highways. “Mobile machinery” is designed to maintain the highways, not to transport people or property over them. The court of appeals, noting that a dump truck with a snowplow blade is a motor vehicle, determined that a street sweeper is merely mobile machinery. Denver was, therefore, immune from suit for the damage caused by the street sweeper.
Suing for civil rights violations is complicated. Concluding a years-long controversy regarding the termination of Ward Churchill, the Supreme Court held that the CU Regents were absolutely immune from suit for claims arising from his termination. Churchill was given 5 internal hearings, presented evidence, examined witnesses, and made arguments under a clear standard of review. The Court held that the Regents are immune from suit for their quasi-judicial decisions. Plus, CRCP 106 review can also prevent constitutional violations. The acrimony between CU and Churchill meant that reinstatement plus wages was not equitable or justified. Finally, even if the investigation was bad faith retaliation for free speech, there is no clear law on that point, so, the Regents could not know if they actually violated his Constitutional rights, and thus also had qualified immunity.
Unexpected long-term disabilities are sometimes worse than death. This case involves CGIA immunity arising from a trust created by public colleges to provide employees with long-term disability benefits. When Mesa State pulled out of the trust, its employees sued the trust for their contributions, alleging breaches of fiduciary duties and inverse condemnation. If plaintiffs’ claims lie or could lie in tort, the defendants would be immune. The court of appeals held that the trustees’ fiduciary duties were written into the contract, so they were not tort claims. Neither the breach of the duty of good faith, nor the inverse condemnation claims were tort claims either. But the economic loss rule barred some contract damages. Fraud claims based on alleged misrepresentations by any attorney regarding benefits, however, could lie in tort because they alleged fraud.
A public hospital can wantonly kill but can’t be sued. In this case, a patient goes to CU’s hospital for monitoring of his epileptic seizures. Concerned, his family asks if they should stay with him. A staff member told them the patient would be monitored full time. He wasn’t, suffered a seizure, and died. The family sued and claimed the hospital and its employees consciously disregarded the danger. The court of appeals held that the hospital itself was immune from suit under the CGIA, even if it acted in a willful and wanton manner; its employees, though, were not immune. But wanton conduct must be alleged with specific facts (“upon information and belief” is fine) showing the defendant was consciously aware of a danger and acted or failed to act without regard for that danger. Here, only allegations against a doctor were sufficient and could go forward. All other claims were dismissed.
To encourage services to assist developmentally disabled persons, the Colorado Legislature enacted a law that provides immunity in any civil action for failure to predict, prevent, warn or protect against the violent, assaultive, disorderly, or harassing behavior of a developmentally disabled person. In this case, a service provider left his charge unsupervised with his own son. The disabled person then allegedly assaulted the son, was arrested, but found incompetent to stand trial. The parents of the disabled person sued the service provider individually for his failure to supervise their son, to provide one-on-one services, and to provide a reasonably safe environment. They sued the employer for failure to train their employee. Because plaintiff’s claims were based on the failure to predict or prevent the assaultive behavior, the provider was immune from liability.
A nine year old elementary school student suffered a compound fracture of her arm when she fell off a “zip-line” that was part of the public school’s playground equipment. The child and her parents sued. The school claimed, and the trial court agreed, that it was immune from the claim as a governmental entity. However, public entities can be sued if injuries result from a dangerous condition of a “public facility” maintained by a public entity. The court of appeals concluded, apparently for the first time, that public school playground equipment was a “public facility.” It was “public” because it was visible to all and not secluded. It was a “facility” because it was man-made, a mechanical device, and installed for children to play upon. The school, therefore, was not immune to a “public facility” claim. The school was, however, immune from the negligent supervision claim.