School Violence: Colorado Schools Can Now Be Held Liable for Attacks, Shootings
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a hotly debated bill this week that waives government immunity for schools in the event of shootings or other forms of violence.
The bill, which was opposed by many schools and school groups, will allow for claims of up to $350,000 per victim or $900,000 per incident if a court finds the school failed to "exercise reasonable care" to prevent "reasonably foreseeable harm."
The move is unusual among states. Previously, Colorado schools could only be held liable for school attacks if a court found they were willfully negligent in ignore threats to student and staff safety.
Advocates for the bill, which is named for 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting victim Claire Davis, said it would ensure that schools are taking student safety seriously and doing as much as they can to prevent harm.
But opponents said that school safety is complicated and that juries considering such cases would see situations that schools could not have anticipated as "reasonably foreseeable" in hindsight.
Hearings on the bill included emotional testimony from Davis' family.
Hickenlooper also signed a bill Wednesday that will create a committee to explore school safety and youth mental health issues.
"These bills will allow us to assess how we provide better support to students suffering from mental health issues, and how to best provide training for school personnel to identify threats to safety; while giving victims and their families the ability to seek damages for incidents of school violence without opening schools and districts to overly burdensome lawsuits," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in a statement on his Facebook page. "Together, we are taking meaningful action to prevent further tragedies in our schools."
Photo: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks during the signing of two school safety measures in the State Capitol, June 3, 2015, in Denver. By adopting the two bills into law, Colorado will be among a few states that allow school lawsuits for cases of violence. --David Zalubowski/AP