In July of 2012, and after years of litigation, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a judgment for the Connelly family against the City of Omaha in the amount of $2,000,000.00. The case arose out of an unfortunate accident occurring at Memorial Park in Omaha, a popular destination for winter activities, including sledding. Rachel and Chelsea Connelly were injured when their saucer sled struck a small crab apple tree that had been planted near a slope used by park patrons for sledding.
Discovery conducted during the case revealed that the City had been urged by neighbors during public meetings discussing the park rehabilitation not to put new plantings on the slope. The City Planning Department agreed to make that a goal of the project so as to not affect the sledding opportunities. The park planner delegated the task of implementing the design for the rehabilitation indicated that she was unaware of where the sledding activity occurred and never visited the park to observe it. A former City Forester, familiar with the activity, indicated he would help her identify the area. Notwithstanding, and after planting six new crabapple trees on the slope, the park planner was warned by the City Forester that the trees should be moved because they encroached on the sledding slope. The planner decided not to follow the City Forester’s advice and injuries to children occurred, including a similar incident about two weeks prior to that of the Connellys. The prior incident was discovered by the firm after subpoenaing City Fire and Rescue records.
The Trial Court ultimately found that the City was willfully negligent in failing to warn or guard against a known hazard. The case was conducted in two trials and underwent two separate appeals. At no time did the City admit fault. The trial court found damages had been incurred by the Connelly family in an amount in excess of $11,000,000.00, but the judgments were reduced by application of the Political Subdivisions Tort Claim Act Cap on Damages imposed by the Nebraska Unicameral. The Connelly family unsuccessfully contested the constitutionality of the cap.
The trial portions of the case were conducted by Tom Locher and Tim Morrison. Ralph Froehlich and Joseph Kehm assisted in the research and writing of multiple briefs filed in the higher courts.
To see the Court's complete opinion, click here.