Judge orders southeast Nebraska district to pay $770,000 damages in school bus collision


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LINCOLN, Nebraska — A southeast Nebraska district has been ordered to pay 70 percent of the damages awarded to a pickup driver injured in a 2009 collision with a district school bus, amounting to $770,000.

Judge Steven Burns of Lancaster County District Court made that ruling last week in the lawsuit filed by Jeff Hall against the Norris School District and Lancaster County. Nearly two dozen students also were hurt in August 2009 when their bus collided with Hall's truck at a rural intersection where a stop sign was missing and visibility was blocked by tall corn.

In his lawsuit, Hall said the bus driver was at fault for speeding at nearly 50 mph into the intersection, even though he was familiar with the danger it posed.

In a 2010 ruling, the trial court awarded Hall $1.1 million but reduced the figure by 30 percent, saying Hall bore some responsibility for the crash because he recognized it was a blind spot. The judge ordered the district to pay 50 percent and the county 20 percent. Burns said the county was liable because, if it had conducted regular inspections, it would have discovered the stop sign was missing.

In April, Supreme Court Judge William Cassel writing for the Nebraska Supreme Court overruled the judge on assessing the county some liability, saying there was no way to know how long the stop sign had been missing. He instructed the trial court to reapportion the county's 20 percent liability between Hall and the district.

Burns last week ordered the district to cover all 20 percent, plus the 50 percent he'd previously ordered the district to pay. Hall should have slowed down more as he entered the intersection, the judge said, but he credited Hall with "attempting to do what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances."

The district's attorney, Jeanelle Lust, on Friday would say only that the district is still evaluating its options.

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