Snowed In: Governmental Immunity and Icy Roads

  • February 19, 2015

Snowy Parking LotIt’s that time of year again.  Icy roads. Slow commutes.  Catching up on your audio books.  As a Denver personal injury attorney, a few questions always come to mind around this time of year:

  1. What responsibility does the government have to its citizens in blizzard situations?
  2. Does CDOT have to make reasonable efforts to clear the roads?
  3. What about clearing ice from entrances to libraries and courthouses?
  4. Can I sue the government if I slip and fall on public property?

The answer, not surprisingly, depends.

Normally, under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, one cannot sue the government because, through legislation, it has been given immunity.  However, under that same law, the government is deemed to have waived its immunity in certain narrow exceptions.

Dangerous Road Conditions

One of those exceptions is that the government waives its immunity in an action for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition of a public highway, road, or street which physically interferes with the movement of traffic on the paved portion.

In our example, a particular dangerous accumulation of snow or ice on a roadway may constitute a “dangerous condition.”

Say, for example, there is a gigantic snow bank on the side of the road that somehow causes a person to lose control of her car and crash into a light pole.  If the government had actual notice through the proper public official responsible for the roadway, e.g. CDOT, that there was a dangerous snow bank on said road, and it failed fails to use the existing means available to remove or mitigate that snow bank in a reasonably timely manner, then the government could be liable for the other person’s injuries.

Honestly, there are enough holes in the law that you could drive a truck through it, but a creative Denver personal injury attorney could certainly craft a complaint that would survive summary judgment.

Lots of Snow and Ice

The Colorado state government also waives immunity from a personal injury lawsuit when it fails to address a dangerous condition caused by an accumulation of snow and ice which physically interferes with public access on walks leading to a public building open for public business and it fails to use existing means available to it for removal or mitigation of such accumulation when it has actual notice of such condition and a reasonable time to act.

In this instance, the most common case that I can think of would be a slip-and-fall on the way in to a government building to pay a parking ticket or to check out a library book.  Again, you could drive a semi-truck through this law, but it’s there.

A point worth noting in both sections of the law is that the government is required to have “actual notice” of the dangerous condition.  This means that someone actually notified the government (say the lead librarian) that there was ice out front, the library had the means to remove it, and they didn’t do so within a reasonable amount of time of being notified.

Get it in writing.

Important: If you’re going to win in court, there needs to be a written record of that notification.  It’s not enough to say that the government “knew or should have known” that there was ice out front.  It has to actually have known-known and you need proof, preferably written.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a dangerous road or sidewalk condition caused by an over-accumulation of snow or ice and the government failing to do its job, contact Denver personal injury attorney Jeffry Dougan today and set up your FREE case evaluation.

Related:Prisoners’ Rights and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, Anti-Vaxxers: Not Immune from Lawsuits

Google+

Leave a Comment: