- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that Lancaster County shouldn’t be held liable in a lawsuit filed by a man who was seriously injured in a crash with a school bus in 2009.

Nearly two dozen students also were hurt when their bus collided with Jeff Hall’s pickup truck at a rural intersection where a stop sign was missing and visibility was blocked by tall corn. Hall sued the country and the Norris School District the following year, saying he had incurred more than $350,000 in medical expenses from his injuries.

Lancaster County Judge Steven Burns found the school district 50 percent liable for the crash, the county 20 percent liable and Hall 30 percent. Hall was awarded $1.1 million, but the judge reduced it to $770,000 to account for Hall’s liability.

Burns had ruled that the district was most liable because its school bus driver - who testified he had driven the same bus route hundreds of times - was familiar with the intersection, knew it was completely blind and still entered it at nearly 50 mph. The judge said Hall, while unfamiliar with the intersection, recognized it was blind as he approached and should have slowed down.

Burns said the county was liable because had it conducted regular inspections, it would have discovered the stop sign was missing.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying the county shouldn’t be held responsible.

“There is no evidence to establish how long the stop sign was missing or how frequently sign inspections should be conducted under the circumstances,” Supreme Court Judge William Cassel wrote in Friday’s ruling. “Thus, Hall and Norris cannot establish that the sign was missing long enough that it would have been discovered pursuant to a sign-inspection procedure.”

The Supreme Court didn’t adjust the amount of money awarded to Hall, but ordered the lower court to apportion what had been the county’s 20 percent liability between Hall and the school district.

Assistant Lancaster County Attorney Doug Cyr said he was pleased with the decision. Hall’s attorney, Vince Powers of Lincoln, said only that he hoped the county “institutes a meaningful inspection system to prevent harm in the future.”

Doug Pillard, the county’s road design engineer, said Friday that the stop sign was replaced immediately following the crash.