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Teran v. Regional Transportation District.

2020 COA 151. No. 19CA1162. Negligence—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Waiver—Jury Instructions—Prejudgment Interest—Complaint.

October 29, 2020

Teran was a passenger on a Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus. She was standing up and holding on to one of the bus’s handrails when the bus driver suddenly stopped the bus and she fell. Teran claimed that the handrail she was holding came loose when the driver braked and thus failed to prevent her from falling. Teran sustained injuries to her back and shoulder as a result of the fall. She sued the bus driver and RTD, asserting two claims of negligence. A jury found that the bus driver had not acted negligently but that RTD was negligent in maintaining the handrail, and its negligence caused Teran’s injuries. Accordingly, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Teran.

RTD filed two post-trial motions seeking relief from the judgment, one under CRCP 12(h)(3) and one under CRCP 60(b)(3), arguing that it was entitled to immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). The trial court found that RTD’s immunity was waived and denied both motions.

On appeal, RTD argued that the trial court erred in denying its post-trial motions because it had immunity under the CGIA. Governmental immunity is an issue of subject matter jurisdiction. The CGIA provides immunity from liability for a public entity in all claims for injury that lie in tort. However, sovereign immunity is waived by a public entity in an action for injuries resulting from a public employee’s operation, while in the course of employment, of a motor vehicle that the public entity owns or leases. Further, a plaintiff need not show that a public employee operating a motor vehicle acted negligently in operating the motor vehicle for this waiver of sovereign immunity to apply, provided the plaintiff shows that the operation of the motor vehicle was a cause of the injuries. Here, the bus driver’s sudden stop constituted the operation of a motor vehicle by a public employee while in the course of employment, and Teran showed that her injuries resulted from the bus driver’s sudden stop, even though the jury determined that the driver was not negligent. Thus, the CGIA did not give RTD immunity so as to deprive the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claim, and the trial court did not err in denying RTD’s motions.

RTD also contended that the trial court erred by rejecting its tendered jury instructions regarding the definition of negligence and the CGIA’s definition of “dangerous condition” and “maintenance.” Here, there was no error in the trial court’s instruction on negligence, and the trial court’s decision to reject RTD’s tendered instructions was not manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary, or unfair. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Teran cross-appealed, contending that the trial court erred by denying, in part, her motion to amend judgment for costs and interest to include prejudgment interest. Teran’s complaint included a catchall prayer for relief but did not specifically request prejudgment interest in her complaint. Therefore, Teran failed to meet the statutory pleading requirement, and the court properly denied her request for prejudgment interest.

The judgment and orders denying RTD’s post-trial motions and Teran’s request for prejudgment interest were affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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