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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ranch Had Duty to Find Worker Injured in Field

(CN) - A Nebraska rancher is liable for waiting a day to rescue a worker who was injured in the field and ultimately lost a leg, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Adam Martensen was repairing pasture fences for Rejda Brothers Inc. on March 15, 2004, when his all-terrain vehicle flipped over and pinned his right leg.

The accident occurred in an 80-acre pasture, and Martensen did not have a cellphone. After completing the work in the 80-acre pasture, Martensen was supposed to move on to a 400-acre plot.

When Martensen did not appear at the ranch's supper table, the company's vice president, Russell Rejda, looked for the worker in vain at some local bars.

A search party combed the fields the next day, but by that time Martensen's leg endured irreversible trauma. Doctors amputated the leg above the knee.

Martensen filed a negligence lawsuit against Rejda, claiming that his employers failed to rescue him in a timely fashion. He offered to settle the case for $600,000, but Rejda rejected the offer.

At trial, Martensen's attorney asked Russell if the company had the responsibility to find their employee sooner.

"I'm trying to figure out the wording on that," he replied. "I, you know, I guess so, yes."

A doctor testified that Martensen's leg could have been saved if someone had found him within the first six hours.

The trial court ruled in Martensen's favor and awarded him $750,000.

Rejda Brothers Inc. appealed the verdict, arguing that it did not have a duty to rescue Martensen until its personnel learned of the injury, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the company's argument was without merit.

"The record shows that Martensen established causation and damages, and Rejda's evidence to the contrary did not persuade the jury otherwise," Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman wrote on the court's behalf.

The justices also rejected Rejda's argument that the plaintiff's counsel's question that resulted in Russell's "I guess so, yes" answer invaded the province of the jury.

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