Supreme Court ruling lowers liability bar for Nebraska companies

Legal News Line Jul. 30, 2007, 10:10am

Justice Kenneth C. Stephan

LINCOLN -- The family of an electrical worker killed on the job in Omaha can sue two private companies but not the public utility in the case, a split Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday. In Judith A. Hughes v. Omaha Public Power District, Nebraska Communications Inc. and Radiodetection Corp. (docket# s05-1233) the Supreme Court partly overturned a Douglas County District Court ruling that the two companies could not be sued because the worker willingly understood the risks of his job. The Nebraska SC agreed with the lower court ruling absolving the Omaha Public Power Distict from any liability in Nickolas Hughes's death. But the 5-2 majority disgreed that the worker was aware of the full risk he was taking in this case. "There are genuine issues of material fact on the issue of whether Hughes knew and appreciated the specific danger posed by the underground electrical line when he took the action which resulted in his death," wrote Justice Kenneth C. Stephan for the majority. But dissenting Justice William M. Connolly argued that the worker should have been - and was - well aware of the dangers involved. He was joined in dissent by Chief Justice Michael J. Heavican. "The evidence shows that Hughes knew of the specific danger involved in cutting the exposed conduit at the 20th street jobsite and assumed the risk of his actions," Connolly wrote in his dissent. Radiodetection's attorney, Daniel Cheshire, told the AP that the ruling could set a new standard for who assumes the reponsibility for risk in Nebraska. The company, like the dissenters, maintain Hughes knew of the potentially fatal risk at the worksite. The case has now been remanded to the Douglas County District Court for further proceedings.

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