DENVER — Thursday, May 3, 2012 — Gov. John Hickenlooper joined Attorney General John Suthers and leadership from the Colorado Senate and Colorado House of Representatives today to announce proposed legislation that could allow Lower North Fork fire victims to seek compensation for their losses.
A bill to be introduced in the House in the coming days would add an amendment to the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act to include prescribed burns to the list of waivers from governmental immunity. The amendment, if approved, would have an effective date of Jan. 1, 2012.
“We all recognize that our immediate need is to assist the victims of the Lower North Fork fire,” Hickenlooper said. “This proposal allows fire victims to make claims under the new law, and it gives them an avenue to seek compensation in a way that we believe is constitutional.”
Hickenlooper and Suthers were joined at the announcement today in the Governor’s Office by Senate President Brandon Shaffer, House Speaker Frank McNulty, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, Sen. John Morse, Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, Rep. Cheri Gerou and Rep. Bob Gardner.
The proposed legislation would create a waiver from governmental immunity for prescribed burns started or maintained by the State if the State or an employee of the State acted negligently in starting or maintaining the fire. The amendment covers only state action – governmental immunity for cities, counties and other political subdivisions of the state would not change.
The amendment does not change the $150,000 per person and the $600,000 per event caps under current law. The bill does make clear, however, that the Colorado State Claims Board can recommend to the General Assembly that it authorize payments in amounts greater than the current caps.
Lower North Fork fire victims would be able to make claims under the new law, allowing a much greater opportunity to recover damages from the state. Those impacted by the fire would have to claim only that the state acted negligently, as compared to the need under current law to show the state acted with willful and wanton disregard for public safety.
The General Assembly must approve the proposed legislation by Wednesday, which is the final day of this year’s legislative session.