The government's liability is capped at $150,000 per individual and $600,000 per incident under a 1971 government immunity statute. However, if I were to crash into my neighbor's car or accidentally kill someone, I would have to pay monetary damages to help my neighbor or would face criminal charges. However, the government is not liable in the same manner. For example, recently 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 under this archaic law is restricted to the above mentioned numbers.
This Colorado fire started as a controlled burn on March 22, 2012. However, the fire soon reignited in 80 mph winds on March 26. As a result, 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. For example, many residents did not receive emergency phone calls, including one of the people who died. And, surprisingly, 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 being called into action. The legislature in Colorado and around the nation should raise the liability cap for plaintiffs to be able to recoup damages from the government's negligence or mistakes. 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 at a minimum 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 and negligence.