OMAHA -- A federal appeals panel Tuesday upheld a $407,000 jury award to a Michigan man who suffered severe injuries in a crash he said was caused by a Nebraska county's failure to mark a sharp turn in a road adequately.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp found that Juston Pohl of Portland, Mich., was entitled to $678,606 for the 2007 crash that trapped him in his car overnight in freezing temperatures. The insurer for Furnas County appealed, and now a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the award.
Pohl was driving on a county road the night of Dec. 7, 2007, when he missed a turn and drove straight off the road. He struck a berm and his car flipped, leaving him trapped for about 10 hours. Eventually, he was able to escape the car and crawl about 1,000 feet to a house for help.
Pohl suffered a spinal cord injury that required surgery and five weeks' hospitalization. His attorney, Maren Chaloupka, said the injuries left Pohl unable to work in building cellphone towers, as he had before the crash.
The district judge found that Furnas County was 60 percent liable for Pohl's injuries because it failed to maintain a warning sign for a sharp turn that could not be seen at night. She also found the sign had been placed too close to the 90-degree turn, giving drivers inadequate time to react.
Pohl was found 40 percent liable because he had failed to wear a seat belt and was traveling 13 mph over the speed limit. His award was reduced to $407,163.
In the appeal, Furnas County's insurer maintained that the trial court should have found that Pohl's contributory negligence in speeding exceeded any negligence by the county. Pohl filed a cross appeal, saying the district court should have apportioned less negligence to him.
The appeals panel rejected both arguments, affirming the district court's ruling.
Pohl's attorney lauded the panel's decision to uphold the jury award.
"The insurance company for Furnas County never offered to settle until a few days before trial, when it offered to pay a fraction of Juston's medical bills," Chaloupka said. "We hope that this insurance company has finished with its delays and distractions and is ready to comply with the court's judgment."
Furnas County Attorney Tom Patterson wouldn't comment immediately Tuesday, but he planned to do so after meeting with the Furnas County Board of Commissioners.