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Parks and Wildlife says state law prevents them from reimbursing Lake Pueblo visitor for boat damage they caused

Posted: Updated:

Follow up: 

If park rangers accidentally run into your boat on Lake Pueblo and cause damage, they aren't responsible because of how a Colorado law is currently written. 

"After consulting with the office of the Attorney General, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has learned it is barred by state law from reimbursing a visitor to Lake Pueblo State Park whose boat was damaged when park rangers stopped him on the water for failing to display a registration sticker," Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Bill Vogrin said. "During the stop, a wave caused the CPW boat to strike the rear of the private watercraft, owned by Matthew McAninch of Colorado Springs. The collision caused an estimated $1,100 damage to his boat. CPW’s park staff instructed Mr. McAninch to file a claim with the Colorado State Office of Risk Management, as is standard procedure in such cases. Mr. McAninch’s claim, however, was denied by Risk Management because it was not a claim that falls within a waived area of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act."

McAninch's compensation claim was ultimately denied because the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act does not recognize a boat as a motor vehicle. 

Had park rangers hit a driver in a car, the outcome may have been different. 

Vogrin said Monday that Parks and Wildlife would pursue every possible avenue to amicably resolve this matter. 

"After further consultation with the Attorney General's office, CPW was notified that state law limits all payment for a claim of this kind to funds managed by Risk Management. The Risk Management Act specifically states that no money in the state Treasury can be spent to settle a claim brought against the state, its officials, or its employees. CPW officials called Mr. McAninch and expressed their disappointment over the legal decision in the case." 

Original story from August 14, 2017: 

A Widefield man enjoying his Saturday on the Pueblo Reservoir got rear ended not by another boater, but park rangers. 

He thought Colorado Parks and Wildlife would pay for the damage, but News 5 Investigates has learned that likely won't happen. 

Had park rangers rear ended someone in a car, they would likely have to pay up. However, according to a letter from the state's insurance company, park rangers on the water aren't liable for damages, even if they are the ones who caused it!

Matt McAninch contacted News 5 Investigates after Colorado Parks and Wildlife refused to pay for damages after scraping the back end of his boat during a routine safety inspection on the reservoir. 

The damage is relatively minor, but McAninch feels the state should pay up.

"There's some fiber glass that was chipped and the whole boat was wrapped so I'l have to have at least the top portion re-wrapped," he said. 

Park rangers told McAninch to file an insurance claim, but that claim was denied because the state says a boat is not considered a motor vehicle and therefore, is immune from liability. 

"They basically said the state is not liable for any watercraft that is on the reservoir," he said. 

A spokesperson for Parks and Wildlife says the department was surprised that the insurance claim was denied and will be looking into what, if anything can be done to make this situation right. 

Here is the department's full statement issued on August 14: 

On June 3, 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers at Lake Pueblo State Park in a state-owned boat stopped a private boat on the water to investigate its lack of a visible registration sticker. Rangers discovered the boat was not registered and a verbal warning was issued. During the stop, a wave caused the CPW boat to strike the private watercraft, owned by Matthew McAninch of Colorado Springs. The collision caused an estimated $1,100 damage to his boat. CPW’s park staff instructed Mr. McAninch to file a claim with the Colorado State Office of Risk Management as is standard procedure in such cases. It was the park staff’s belief the claim would be paid because the staff believed CPW’s boat was responsible for the damage. Mr. McAninch’s claim, however, was denied by Risk Management. “We have reviewed and investigated your notice to the Colorado Attorney General dated June 13, 2017. Our investigation indicates that your claim does not fall within a waived area of the (Colorado Governmental Immunity Act). The park ranger’s watercraft is a type of mobile or electric machinery that is not considered to be a motor vehicle under the (state law),” the Risk Management claims adjuster wrote in a letter to Mr. McAninch. The claims adjuster further stated, in a July 26 letter to Mr. McAninch, that CPW is prohibited by state law from paying for the damages from its own budgeted funds: “The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, passed many years ago by the Legislature, quite narrowly restricts the state’s ability to reimburse individuals for damages which may have been caused by a public employee of a public entity.” CPW officials were surprised to learn that boat-to-boat damage involving a CPW watercraft is not covered by the state’s self-insurance policy. CPW staff accepted responsibility for the damage and advocated on behalf of Mr. McAninch. CPW will continue to pursue every possible avenue to amicably resolve this issue.

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