On October 6, 2007 Thomas Latzel and Daniel Vanekelenburg were involved in a car accident with Patrick Gaughen at the intersection of County Road T and Count Road 17. Three years later, Thomas Latzel would die from the injuries he incurred in the accident. Thomas’ wife, Amanda Latzel, brought a lawsuit against Ronald and Doug Bartek alleging they negligently planted corn too close to the intersection causing the accident.
It was undisputed the Barteks’ 7 foot tall corn partially obstructed the view of the drivers. However, the district court found the Barteks were never notified the corn created a hazard at the intersection. Therefore, the Barteks could not be held liable for the accident and dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed.
The Court emphasized the Barteks “were not bound to anticipate the drivers would disregard the obvious danger of traversing a visually obstructed unmarked intersection without being able to see what they needed to see to do so safely.” Put simply; the drivers were negligent, not the farmers.
Judge Kenneth Stephan went further stating “the farmers could not be held liable for “simply making lawful use of their agricultural land to raise crops.” Latzel v. Ronald Bartek et al.
Disappointed in the verdict, Latzel’s attorney argued the courts ignored the state statute which requires landowners to restrict their plants from obstructing drivers’ views. According to Latzel’s counsel, urban landowners are routinely held to the statute while rural landowners are not. Omaha World Herald: Nebraska Supreme Court: Farmers not liable for fatal crash where tall corn obstructed view.
Despite the statute, the Court may have been considering the potential impacts on statewide farming practices if they found the Barteks liable under the statute.