Under a 1971 government immunity statute, the government’s liability is capped at $150,000 per individual and $600,000 per incident. However, if I were to crash into my neighbor’s car and accidently kill someone, I would have to pay monetary damages to help my neighbor recoup the loss or would face criminal charges. However, the government does not fall under the same laws. For example, the Colorado State Forest Service was blamed for the destruction of 27 structures and three deaths in a recent controlled burn that went awry. However, its liability is restricted to the above numbers.
This fire stated as a controlled burn on March 22, 2012, but reignited in 80 mph winds on March 26. Consequently, the fire spread across more than 4,000 acres and caused $11.3 million in property damage. To further the damage, firefighting efforts were hampered by a series of communication mishaps and a delay in ordering an evacuation. Many residents in the area did not receive emergency phone calls, including one of the people who died.
The Sheriff department found no criminal violations related to the wildfire. Homeowners are justifiably furious that the Forest Service chose to set the fire during one of the driest Marches on record. This fire resulted in 900 homes being evacuated and more than 700 firefighters. The legislature should raise the liability cap for plaintiffs to be able to recoup. For example, one of the nine claimants lost 2.5 miles of power distribution lines in the fire and has already spent $700,000 to repair them, even before paying mounting overtime compensation for restoring electric service to customers in the area.
While this law is intended to protect governments from frivolous lawsuits, the law needs to be reviewed and updated to keep pace with inflation. After all, the state and local governments are collecting more in taxes as individuals earn more and home values increase. Furthermore, this would ensure that the government is liable and held accountable for its own mistakes.