Judge Dismisses Nebraska County’s Claim Against Insurers

October 24, 2018

Gage County’s insurance policies from a risk-sharing pool of companies don’t cover $28.1 million that a jury awarded to six people who were wrongfully convicted in the 1985 rape and killing of a woman, a judge ruled.

Judge Jodi Nelson, of Lancaster County District Court, dismissed the county’s claim earlier this month, saying Gage County officials acted wrongly before the policies went into effect, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

The 2016 verdict was awarded to the so-called Beatrice Six for their wrongful convictions in the 1985 rape and killing of a 68-year-old Beatrice resident, Helen Wilson. They spent more than 75 years, combined, in prison before DNA evidence cleared them in 2008. Wilson’s death has since been linked to a former Beatrice resident who died in 1992.

The six alleged in a lawsuit that law enforcement officials recklessly pushed to close the case despite contradictory evidence and coerced false confessions.

After the 2016 verdict, attorneys for the county sued the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, a risk-sharing pool that offers insurance to most counties in the state. It began covering Gage County in 1997. Employers Mutual Casualty carried the county’s insurance from Feb. 2, 1989, until Feb. 2, 1990.

The county argued that the triggering incidents by county officials occurred after the March and April 1989 arrests of the six and after the Aug. 2, 1989, date the policies took effect.

Last week, the judge ruled that Westport Insurance, American Alternative Insurance, United National Insurance and Travelers Indemnity – companies that contracted with Gage County through the risk management association – weren’t responsible for paying the judgment.

“The Beatrice Six were injured when Gage County’s employees charged and arrested them,” Nelson wrote. “This occurrence – an event resulting in damage – involved acts, errors, or omissions of Gage County’s employees.”

In July a federal appeals court upheld the jury award. County officials still hope the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn it, but the county board approved a plan last month to raise taxes to help pay the award.

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