Neb. Man Paralyzed in Crash Loses Fight With Insurer

A man paralyzed in a crash with a Scotts Bluff County, Neb., sheriff’s cruiser that also killed his fiancee lost his fight to get money from the county’s insurance company, according to the Associated Press.

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected an appeal involving Manuel Salazar of Minatare, who was injured in the April 2000 accident that killed Brenda Smith.

Salazar sued Scotts Bluff County and deputy Jeffrey Chitwood, claiming the deputy was negligent and caused the wreck.

Accident reports said that Chitwood’s cruiser was speeding when it struck Salazar’s vehicle.

Salazar was stopped on Nebraska Highway 26 to turn into a truck stop when his car was rear-ended by another vehicle going less than 30 mph, police said.

The collision pushed Salazar’s sport utility vehicle into the path of Chitwood’s cruiser, which was traveling 20 mph to 30 mph over the posted 50 mph speed limit, according to court records.

Chitwood was not responding to an emergency at the time.

Salazar’s lawyers, Robert and Maren Chaloupka of Scottsbluff, said Chitwood ignored signs alerting him of a lower speed limit and cars making turns.

Scotts Bluff County District Judge Randall Lippstreu ruled in favor of Salazar and assessed damages at more than $7 million. But the judge also said the county only had to pay $1 million _ the cap set in state law regarding tort claims against political subdivisions.

The high court upheld that ruling in 2003.

In the case decided recently, the high court rejected arguments that Salazar was entitled to money from the insurance company, which sold the county a $316,000 liability insurance policy to cover claims exceeding the $1 million cap.

Maren Chaloupka argued that the insurance company, American Alternative Insurance Corp., was liable because it offered to pay $50,000 on top of the cap to settle the case before trial – an indication that the policy was for any payments over the cap.

In the ruling, Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman said the fact that the insurance company provided excess coverage for protection in a case with multiple, $1 million claims “cannot be viewed as creating any rights on the part of injured persons such as Salazar to recover more from the insurer than its insured was legally obligated to pay.”

Chitwood was suspended for 30 days after the accident.

Salazar is paralyzed from the waist down. His medical bills have exceeded $1 million and could eventually exceed $3 million.

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