Denver Public Schools

The Court of Appeals has rejected Denver Public Schools' request to toss an injured parent's lawsuit because she neglected to state how much money she was seeking.

Although Colorado's governmental immunity law requires people who make claims against a government entity or employee to file a written notice that includes "a statement of the amount of monetary damages" being requested, a three-judge appellate panel agreed that an exact dollar amount is not necessary.

Lisa Bradley reportedly slipped and fell at Asbury Elementary School in November 2018 while she was dropping off her kids. She believed DPS was responsible because it did not address the buildup of snow and ice. However, the insurance claims adjustor for the school district notified Bradley that DPS was not liable for her injuries. Nonetheless, it would provide up to $1,000 for "reasonable and necessary medical expenses."

An attorney for Bradley sent DPS a letter in January 2019 notifying the district of Bradley's legal claim and asking it to preserve evidence. DPS challenged whether Bradley had complied with the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act's requirement that the notice contain the dollar amount she was seeking. Denver District Court Judge Eric M. Johnson declined to dismiss the lawsuit, finding Bradley had satisfied the requirements of the law despite the omission of a dollar figure.

Bradley ultimately asked for $350,000.

The school district appealed, citing the Colorado Supreme Court decision of Mesa County Valley School District v. Kelsey. In that 2000 ruling, the court deemed that claims should be evaluated for "strict compliance" with the terms of the governmental immunity law. Justin H. Miller, the attorney for DPS, argued that Bradley's request for compensation needed to be explicit.

"If you do not know someone is bringing an action of personal injury for monetary damages, you don’t have time to explore settlement and settle a meritorious claims," he told the appellate panel. "You don’t have time to prepare a defense. You don’t have time to allocate funds to make sure you can cover any potential liability."

In response, Judge David H. Yun listed the contents of Bradley's 2019 letter notifying DPS of her claim.

"The letter provides her name and address, referred to her as a claimant, identified the date, time and location of the fall, then goes on and provides a factual and legal basis for the claim," Yun said. "So why would that frustrate you in determining whether or not she’s making a claim? You’re just making a technical argument, aren’t you?"

Yun in the panel's Nov. 18 opinion acknowledged the purpose of the notice requirement is to give the government entity being sued time to respond and financially prepare itself to cover any liability. Although the governmental immunity law notes that a failure to comply with the notice requirement will "forever bar" any legal claim, the Court of Appeals determined the absence of a dollar figure was not fatal to Bradley's case.

A claim against the government satisfies the law "when it reasonably and objectively can be inferred from the document as a whole that the claimant is in fact claiming monetary damages," Yun wrote.

Governmental immunity generally bars liability claims on the theory that defending against civil lawsuits would raise costs for taxpayers or disrupt government services. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act does allow certain types of claims to proceed, including for injuries resulting from the dangerous conditions of a public building. 

The case is Bradley v. School District No. 1.

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