News 5 Investigates

Jun 16, 2014 8:26 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Rescuers threatened with lawsuit for “taking too long” to save man during flood receive international award

Three North Metro Fire Rescue District firefighters were recently honored with an international award for their swiftwater rescue in Broomfield during the September 2013 floods.

Lt. Rob Williams, engineer John Cook and firefighter Bryan Gaines were presented the 2014 Higgins & Langley Memorial Award for Swiftwater Rescue Incident as part of the National Association for Search and Rescue Conference.

The award was given after the three saved two people who were trapped in their cars when Dillon Road near US 287 washed out from flood waters.

The Broomfield Enterprise reports Williams, Cook and Gaines navigated floodwaters in an inflatable boat to rescue the victims with the support from North Metro Fire crews on the banks and other emergency agencies.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Roy Ortiz, one of many people rescued during last year's devastating floods, has begun the process of suing first responders who saved him, alleging rescuers did not get to him fast enough when his car became submerged in a creek along U.S. 287 west of Denver.

Ortiz' flipped-over silver sedan was captured by our NBC affiliate in Denver in September 2013. Floodwaters took his car and turned it upside down, trapping Ortiz inside. A few days after his rescue, Ortiz spoke out during a news conference to update the public on his recovery.

Ortiz claims rescuers took nearly two hours to save him and now wants first responders to pay for damages.

"We didn't know he was still in the car (trapped)," one firefighter said during the news conference.

The North Metro Fire Rescue District admitted they did not immediately see Ortiz trapped in his car as others were pulled to safety. Eventually, emergency officials spotted Ortiz and pulled him out.

Alive and well today, Ortiz wants to be compensated for medical bills for hypothermia. He also claims to have sleepless nights and suffers from emotional distress. Ortiz adds that had the road he was traveling on been blocked off, he would have never been in this situation.

"I think Mr. Ortiz has some very significant hurdles to overcome," Colorado Springs attorney Ann Smith said.

Smith says that unlike suing a person, suing a government agency is different, and quite often, difficult.
"In order to even get to the question of damages, he (Mr. Ortiz) would first have to show that there's liability involving the first responders," Smith said.

Under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, first responders cannot be sued for doing their job. However, the law gets murky when it comes to medical-related lawsuits. Public hospitals and employees are not immune from them.

"What has to be looked at is whether these first responders fall under the "hospital" exemption from the immunity act," Smith said. "If it doesn't fall under this category, I don't think that immunity is waived and in that case, a motion to dismiss gets filed and the lawsuit goes no further."

Anytime a person plans to sue a government agency, they must first file an intent to sue claim. Certain guidelines must be met before the case moves forward.

Ortiz is asking for up to $500,000 in damages.

News 5 contacted Ortiz for comment. Ortiz referred us to his attorney, Ed Ferszt.

Ferszt declined to comment at this time.

Photo courtesy: North Metro Fire/Rescue

 

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