Plaintiffs Challenge Statutory Damages Cap before Nebraska Supreme Court

The Nebraska Supreme Court will determine whether a $2.5 million verdict awarded to two young girls who were seriously injured in a sledding accident should be overturned. In December of 2000, Rachel and Chelsea Connelly were sledding down Memorial Park Hill when they violently collided into a crabapple tree planted by the city. Experts maintain that the hill’s slope routed the girls into the crabapple tree.

The Connellys contend that the city was negligent because it was aware of the dangers posed by the crabapple trees, yet failed to take corrective action. To support this contention, the Connellys have shown that a city park planner was made aware of damage to the bottom of one newly planted tree before the accident. In addition, at trial, the Connellys presented a witness whose daughter suffered a broken jaw after hitting one of the newly planted trees days before the Connelly girls were injured. The city alleges that it should not be held liable for accidents during recreational activities. Deputy City Attorney Thomas Mumgaard wrote, “It is inexcusable negligence to put young children on an uncontrollable sled and send them down a hill near trees.” Mumgaard also faults Chelsea in the accident, saying that she was an experienced sledder, and failed to fall off the sled or drag her feet to prevent the sled from colliding with the tree.

Rachel was awarded a statutory maximum of $1 million, but her medical bills are expected to reach $4.2 million. As a result the Connelly’s have challenged the constitutionality of the limiting statute, arguing that it deprives Rachel of her substantive due process right to recover proven economic damages.
The Nebraska Supreme Court will hear oral arguments beginning on September 7.