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Ask the Experts: Third-Party Claims

What should we do about a potential issue, injury, or claim involving a third-party?

It will hardly be news to anyone that accidents happen. These accidents may not seem severe or appear as an immediate threat. Nonetheless, if an accident affects property, an employee, or a member of the public, the potential for injuries and resulting damage can challenge even the most prepared district.

We field many questions about dealing with potential claims, such as how late is too late for someone to file a claim against a district, or what is the district’s responsibility when handling a claimant. There is plenty of information on the subject, as well as a clear-cut statute that explains the responsibility of those filing a claim against a district.

Today, the leading causes for litigation stem from disagreements with constituents regarding the way a district performs, the failure to do something, an action to stop doing something, or an action to doing something different than what the district previously planned.

These reminders can help you foresee potential problems from becoming larger legal issues. First and foremost, regardless of what has happened, do not admit fault. While it is important to provide an injured person with all necessary medical assistance, this does not mean you are taking responsibility for what occurred. As a public entity, special districts have the protection of sovereign immunity under many circumstances.

In addition, always preserve all evidence related to an incident, and try to gather witness accounts of what happened while the information is fresh. From this point on, once the Pool is notified and we have further investigated the incident with professional staff, we will need to see if a formal “Statutory Notice of Claim” is filed.

Depending on the issues involved, we may use the Pool’s Pre-loss legal services to involve special counsel to prevent a potential claim. This service allows you to avoid or prepare for costly lawsuits or respond to legal actions when necessary.

Commonly, issues relating to human resources are among the most costly legal problems a special district can face. Luckily, our services also include access to HR consultants, the HR Helpline and specialized attorneys, at no cost.

In a variety of cases, we have found that some districts did not notify us about potential claims. This is because they believed the incident was not serious, or that no apparent harm occurred. However, just believing your district might not be implicated in the event of an incident, is no reason to delay reporting, which is required under the terms of coverage.

There is never a penalty for reporting a potential claim. Simply put, to best protect your district, any incident that might have validity should be reported.

This can also be said for claims that may not seem valid at first or might ultimately fail. Regardless, it is your duty to present the information so that we can assist you in handling the incident.

Additionally, people might believe that the injured party will not make a claim, due to a personal relationship or a prospective external settlement, but this too has come back to negatively affect districts. The best rule of thumb is: if something happens or there is the potential that something might happen, let us know.

According to the statute of limitations, a claimant also has a clear responsibility to file their claim in a timely manner. Statues of limitations exist in order to promote justice, discourage unnecessary delay, and prevent the prosecution of stale claims so that organizations can appropriate fund and budget for these types of expenses.

When a third party brings a claim against a district, the party involved has a defined number of days to do so. (C.R.S.) § 24-10-109 states that a notice or claim must be filed within 182 days after the discovery of an injury. Even if some elements of the claim are unknown, such as the cause of action for injury or damage, this still holds true.

A third-party notice must be provided to the Board of Directors and include the following:

    • The name and address of the claimant and the name and address of the claimant’s attorney, if applicable;
    • A concise statement of the factual basis of the claim, including the date, time, place, and circumstances of the act, omission, or event complained of;
    • The name and address of any public employee involved, if known;
    • A concise statement of the nature and the extent of the injury claimed to have been suffered;
    • A statement of the amount of monetary damages that is being requested

The best practice is to identify and report incidents as they occur. This allows the Pool to offer resources to help you contain the issue and respond effectively and fairly.

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