From the Travel Bag: What Were They Thinking?

Imagine anyone doing contract work for a government entity thinking that they should have the same limits on liability as that entity. The Colorado Supreme Court gets it right. And, you can read the article reprinted below form the Denver Post of February 9, 2011.

Colorado Supreme Court: RTD private contractors don’t have immunity in lawsuits
By Jeffrey Leib
The Denver Post

Private bus companies and their employees who are contracted by RTD do not share the agency’s governmental immunity when they are responsible for an accident, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.
On Monday, the court overturned lower court rulings that had said a First Transit Inc. bus driver was protected by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s $150,000 cap on damages after a 2004 accident that injured a motorist.
The Regional Transportation District and other government entities have the CGIA’s shield ofnot having to pay more than $150,000 per person killed or injured in an accident, or a total of $600,000 when there are multiple victims.
The Supreme Court ruling could have a significant impact on possible lawsuits arising from the April 2010 incident in which a bus driver for Veolia Transportation, another private RTD contractor, hit a number of vehicles after running a red light at East Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Street in Denver. Two people were killed and 10 injured in the
accident, and the Veolia driver recently was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to several charges of careless driving.
When Patricia Henisse, the victim in the First Transit bus accident, sued the driver and company, the trial court ruled that the contractor and its employee shared terms of RTD’s governmental immunity.
“The court of appeals affirmed, holding that (the First Transit driver) was a common law employee of RTD and thus a ‘public employee’ under the CGIA,” the Supreme Court noted in its finding.
But the high court overturned that ruling: “Because we hold that (the driver) is not a ‘public employee’ and not subject to the CGIA’s $150,000 damages cap, First Transit, as his employer, is also not subject to the cap.”
Stephen Cook, Henisse’s attorney, said his client “is relieved and appreciative of how the court’s ruling will give her the opportunity to recover fair restitution for her injuries.”
“Equally important to her is that the folks injured in the crash last April and other people who may get injured from these private companies’ negligence will have the opportunity to be treated fairly,” Cook said.
University of Denver law professor Tom Russell said the ruling “returns at least a little bit of sense to the law regarding contractors with governmental immunity.”
“With immunity, the entity has less incentive to act safely because they will never have to take responsibility for the full cost of the deaths or injuries they cause,” said Russell, who has a suit pending against RTD on behalf of survivors of someone killed by one of the agency’s buses.

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