Supreme Court Considers Reach of CGIA

Governmental immunity can be applied to historical incidents

The City of Colorado Springs can be sued for injuries resulting from decades of environmental contamination that happened long before the establishment of a law that exempts the government from such claims, the Colorado Supreme Court said.

The court on Feb. 4 ruled in Smoke-brush Foundation v. City of Colorado Springs that the city is not exempt from tort claims under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act for injuries resulting from coal tar pollutants created by the historic use of a public gas facility. The court did, however, find that Colorado Springs was exempt on other claims. The court’s split ruling now sends the case back to district court.

Plaintiffs in the case brought tort claims against the City of Colorado Springs related to the airborne release of asbestos from demolition on city property and from the subsurface migration of coal tar pollutants created by coal gasification on city property. The Colorado Court of Appeals found that both claims were barred under the CGIA, but a majority of the Supreme Court disagreed.

CASE HISTORY
In 1925, Colorado Springs purchased a coal gasification plant and continued to operate it through 1931, when it converted it to natural gas. Over time, the gas plant went defunct and was replaced with other buildings that sat on that same property. In 2013, the city demolished those buildings and according to Smokebrush, “permitted the airborne migration of soils containing asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic substances”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the February 12, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.