Bill to lift damages cap for fire victims heads to Hickenlooper

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DENVER -- State lawmakers Monday gave final approval to a bill that raises limits for the damages people can recover as a result of government wrongdoing.

The final House vote on the proposal comes 364 days since the Lower North Fork Fire, which resulted from a controlled burn started by the Colorado Forest Service as an attempt to mitigate the risk of wildfire.

Senate Bill 23, now on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk, raises the state's damages cap, first established in 1987 after a bus accident on Berthoud Pass as state transportation workers were clearing rock above the road.

But while the bill, which raises the damages cap for people suing state government, is very much a response to last March's Lower North Fork Fire, it's not going to help people like Scott Appel, whose wife was among the three people killed in the fire.

Currently, the Colorado Government Immunity Act caps damages at $150,000 per person and $600,000 per occurrence; the new law will raise the per person cap to $350,000 and $990,000 per occurrence.

The higher cap would only apply to damages occurring after June 30, 2013.

"I'm more angry about this than I've ever been about anything in state government," said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, last week. "It's very disappointing.

Lower North Fork victims have yet to receive compensation from the state.

"They didn't get the support that the High Park fire and the Waldo Canyon victims got. They've gotten nothing. And not only that, but the state of Colorado doesn't want to talk about it because they don't want to talk about their role in the fire and the fact that the state caused it."