UPDATE: On June 3, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Claire Davis Safety Act, which creates a right to sue the State of Colorado if school districts fail to exercise reasonable care to protect students, faculty or staff from crimes of violence.
Claire Davis was the high school senior killed by fellow student, Karl Pierson, during the Arapahoe High School shooting of December 13, 2013. Out of the ashes of this tragedy, Claire Davis’ brave parents, Michael and Desiree, successfully lobbied for a change in the Colorado Sovereign Immunity Act to create an actionable claim against a public school district when a crime of violence is committed on public school property or during school-sponsored activities under certain circumstances. In the Act, crime of violence means that a person committed, conspired to commit, or attempted to commit murder, first degree assault, or felony sexual assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury is defined in the Act as an injury that involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of permanent physical impairment, or a substantial risk or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any organ of the body.
Now signed by the Governor, Senate Bill 15-213 allows for victims to bring claims against a public school district if they fail to exercise reasonable care to protect students, faculty, or staff from acts committed by another person when the harm is reasonably foreseeable and while students, faculty or staff are within the school facilities or are participating in school-sponsored activities. The introduction of the Bill specifically details that since April 20, 1999, there have been three separate incidents of school violence in Colorado, all resulting in students being killed at their schools. The sponsors of the Bill noted that parents should have a reasonable expectation that when they send their children to a public school, the school and its employees will take steps to keep the children safe. The Act creates a new Colorado State statute (C.R.S. §24-10-106.3) and specifically provides that under these circumstances, anyone injured may make a claim up to the governmental immunity limits of $350,000 per injured or killed person, and $900,000 per incident.
The Davis’ brought to light what Colorado personal injury attorneys have known for a long time, just how little legal responsibility public schools had in the most overt cases of negligence on the part of the school to take action to protect students and faculty from the violent crime on school property. The Claire Davis Safety Act is a step in the right direction to better protect Colorado residents. And while no amount of money will bring back 17 year old Claire Davis, or any of the other victims of violent crimes on school property, this law sends the clear message that schools have a duty to protect students and faculty, and they will be held liable if they do not make the appropriate efforts.