CUSTER COUNTY— Six years after the accident took place, a decision has been reached on the lawsuit brought forward by the Christensen family for the injuries sustained to Chad Christensen in the accident that claimed three lives. In June 2012, Chad Christensen along with basketball teammates and coaches were traveling in a van west on Highway 2 when it was involved in an accident with a pickup.
The pickup, driven by Albert Sherbek, was traveling east on Highway 2 when the pickup crossed the center line and impacted the van in a fatal head on collision. Albert was pronounced dead at the scene while the driver and passenger of the van were killed on impact. Chad, who was not wearing a seatbelt, sustained numerous injuries including severe closed head injury, pulmonary contusion, and liver laceration, along with other physical and mental injuries.
The following year, Michael and Cathy Christensen, filed a lawsuit against the wife of Albert Sherbeck, Beverly Sherbeck, as a personal representative of the estate of Albert Sherbeck as well as a personal lawsuit against Beverly. This lawsuit also later included the Broken Bow School District, but that was dismissed in a directed verdict by Judge Karin Noakes.
The plaintiffs, the Christensens, claimed that Albert Sherbeck was negligent when he drove his vehicle by failing to maintain proper lookout, failing to maintain proper control of his vehicle, and crossing the center line. The personal lawsuit involved negligent action taken by Beverly Sherbeck for allowing her husband to drive the pickup knowing he had a heart condition.
On Thursday, December 13 attorneys for both sides made their closing arguments in front of the jury. David Houghton, attorney for the Christensens, argued that Sherbeck was negligent due to crossing the center line and failing to maintain control of his vehicle. This action caused the pickup to smash into the van and thus caused the numerous injuries to Chad. Houghton then argued that if it were not for the negligence of the Sherbecks that Chad would not have had to endure these injuries.
Houghton told the jury that it is very uncomfortable to have to do this job of awarding money, especially this large of an amount, to someone, but it was necessary. Houghton proceeded to tell the jury about the known dollar amount that the Christensens should be awarded for medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and life care. The amount that was known for just those three categories ranged from $3.625 million and $3.668 million. Non-economic damages was the one thing that Houghton did not have a number for, he told the jury that it was a number that would be in the millions, but told the jury that it was a decision that would have to be made by them.
Daniel Placzek, defense attorney for the Sherbecks, argued that while what happened was tragic, it was not the fault of the Sherbecks. Placzek told the jury that sudden cardiac death was the cause of the accident and not the driving ability of Albert. In his argument, Placzek noted that there were multiple factors that showed that it was possible that ventricular fibrillation caused Albert to lose consciousness and die behind the wheel.
Albert was at a much higher risk of ventricular fibrillation due to the amount of damage that was on the heart. Ventricular fibrillation is when a normal heartbeat, 60-80 beats per minute, increases to 300+ flutters per minute causing near instantaneous death. Another important point that Placzek brought up was the Nebraska State Trooper who was in charge of the investigation said there was very little blood on the airbag of the pickup.
According to Placzek, this shows that the heart was not pumping when the pickup and van collided. The biggest point that Placzek was pushing during his argument was the suddenness of everything. Placzek told the jury that witness testimony told of the pickup suddenly leaving the east bound lane and entering the west bound lane before impact. Placek continued to argue that if Albert was distracted it would have been a slow veer from his lane into the other and not the sudden movement that was described.
After only a few hours of deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the defendant, Beverly Sherbeck. District Court Clerk, Amy Oxford, read the verdict to the court saying that while the plaintiffs were able to prove negligence against Albert Sherbeck as well as vicarious liability, the defendant was able to prove that Albert Sherbeck had lost consciousness prior to impacting the van.
This proof that Albert had lost consciousness before impacting the van means that the jury had to vote in favor of the defendant. The jury also voted in favor of the defendant saying the plaintiff failed to prove that Beverly Sherbeck was negligent in allowing Albert to drive the pickup. Judge Karin Noakes thanked the jury for their service and court was adjourned, ending a trial that had lasted more than a week.