Nobody wants to be sued for hurting another person. Many citizens fear that if they carelessly injure another, they could be sued for a large amount of money. But did you know that government employees have special protections limiting what they have to pay in liability lawsuits — yet other citizens do not?
For example, suppose you are crossing a street in a crosswalk; suddenly, you are hit and struck down by the careless driver of a pickup; from this accident, you are crippled for life. Suppose the careless driver was a citizen, who was privately employed (i.e. not a government employee) like most of us. In that case, they may have to pay millions in damages for the pedestrian’s injuries and a lifetime of disability. But if by chance, the pickup driver was working as a state employee at the time, Colorado law says the government doesn’t have to pay any more than $387,000 in compensation. This is because laws passed by our Legislators say government employees have immunity from paying any more than that. But if you or I injured that pedestrian, we might have to pay millions, and face losing our homes, cars, and savings.
The Legislature in Colorado passed laws that limit the amount careless government employees have to pay when they seriously injure someone. In contrast, other citizens do not have that limitation or protection against financial ruin. A real-life example of this unfairness occurred in a recent snowboarding accident.
A 24-year-old snowboarder was seriously injured on the slopes. He learned he needed surgery to remove one of his kidneys at the hospital. The surgeon was employed by UCHealth, which also ran the hospital, so the State of Colorado employed both. The doctor removed the kidney, but the snowboarder continued to bleed internally after the surgery. He spent a week in the hospital and was then released home to his mother’s care.
When his mother picked him up at the hospital, he was still bleeding. She saw blood on his shirt that bled through the thick surgical bandage. The nurse who helped the snowboarder out to the car said: “looks like he sprung a leak.” Nonetheless, he was released by the hospital to his mother’s care.
The next day the 24-year-old son collapsed at home and died. An autopsy said the young man died from “internal bleeding.”
The hospital and doctors quietly settled the mother’s liability claim. They paid the mother the maximum she could recover for her son's death under Colorado law, $387,000. That was the max the mother could receive in compensation because the hospital and doctor were Colorado State employees. Laws passed by the Colorado Legislature protected State employees from having to pay any more than $387,000. In contrast, a private hospital and surgeon would be exposed to paying more than twice that amount.
Is that justice? Is that fair? Or is that special treatment given to government employees? Colorado Legislators need to know what the citizens think of laws like this that allow and require such unequal treatment.