Inside Claire Davis-Inspired Bill About Suing Schools Over Shootings

A family photo of Claire Davis. Additional images and more below.
A family photo of Claire Davis. Additional images and more below.
File photo

In December 2013, Araphaoe High School student Claire Davis died days after she was shot by another student, Karl Pierson.

Davis's name isn't mentioned in Senate Bill 15-213, a measure expected to be heard by a Colorado state Senate committee today.

However, she was the inspiration behind the legislation, which would waive "governmental immunity in cases of school violence," according to a release from Colorado Senate Republicans, whose leader, Senate President Bill Cadman is a big backer of the measure.

In other words, the proposal would allow parents to sue after school shootings — but while money is part of the equation, information plays an even bigger role.

As we reported at the time, authorities investigating the incident announced early on that Pierson, who later took his own life, didn't appear to have targeted Davis when he opened fire at Arapahoe High. Rather, she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The attack, and Davis's fight for her life, attracted national attention. Upon learning Davis was a fan, the members of the band One Direction even recorded a video wishing her well.

Unfortunately, Davis's wounds were too severe. Here's how her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, announced her passing:

It is with unspeakable sadness that we write and say that Claire has passed away from the gunshot wound she received at Arapahoe High School on December 13, 2013. Although we have lost our precious daughter, we will always be grateful for the indelible journey she took us on over the last 17 years — we were truly blessed to be Claire's parents. The grace, laughter and light she brought to this world will not be extinguished by her death; to the contrary, it will only get stronger.

Last week was truly a paradox in that we lost our daughter, yet we witnessed the wonderful love that exists in the world through the tremendous outpouring of support we received. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank the first responders, the school resource officer, security guard and vice principal at Arapahoe High School, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office, and the physicians, nurses and staff at Littleton Adventist Hospital. Each played a significant role in giving Claire a chance to live, and demonstrated extreme amounts of professionalism, courage and love. Please know that we will never forget the extraordinary work you did on Claire's behalf.

In the months and years since then, Michael and Desiree sought additional information from the school amid reports that warning signs about Pierson had been ignored prior to the assault.  Last year, school security guard Christine Kolk shared her own concerns at a press conference in which she expressed frustration with Arapahoe High's administration.

The Davises contemplated filing a lawsuit to force the school to divulge more information, but ultimately agreed not to do so earlier this month after the Littleton School Board approved a plan that would release reports on the shooting to them and, at a later date, the public at large.

Another family photo of Claire Davis.
Another family photo of Claire Davis.
File photo

Nonetheless, Claire's parents continue to support SB 15-213. We've included the entire bill below, but here's an excerpt from its summary:

The bill amends the "Colorado Governmental Immunity Act" (CGIA) to recognize that a duty of reasonable care exists with respect to public school districts, charter schools, and their employees to exercise reasonable care to protect students, faculty, staff, and others from harm that is reasonably foreseeable while such students, faculty, staff, and others are within the school facilities or are participating in school-sponsored activities.

Damage amounts are capped at $350,000 for "one person in any single occurrence" and $900,000 "for injuries to multiple persons in any single occurrence." But just as important is this  passage about discovery — the information gleaned during the investigatory process:

In order to promote vigorous discovery of events leading to an incident of violence in schools, the bill states that a defendant may not make an offer of judgment until discovery has been completed. The bill further states that if any defendant refuses to answer any complaint, if a default judgment is entered for failure to answer a complaint, or if a defendant confesses liability in an action brought against a public school district, the court shall allow full discovery upon request of the plaintiff.

While Senate President Cadman is arguably the bill's most vocal booster, the measure does have bipartisan support. Note that its co-sponsor in the House is Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat.

Here's Senate Bill 15-213:


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