A directed verdict is proper at the close of all the evidence only where reasonable minds cannot differ and can draw but one conclusion from the evidence, that is to say, where an issue should be decided as a matter of law.
Verdell Koch (Koch) and Priscilla Koch sued the Norris Public Power District (Norris) for damages they suffered from a fire that started when a high voltage powerline maintained by Norris fell into their field and started a fire. The Koch's sued the public power district under the Nebraska Tort Claims Act for damages. However, the trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of Norris on the basis that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply to establish Norris' negligence as the cause of the powerline falling. The Koch's appealed arguing that the trial court erred in: (1) finding insufficient evidence that the power line was in the district's exclusive control; and (2) requiring them to show there was no possibility that a third party caused their injuries.
Was a directed verdict based on res ipsa loquitur applicable to a utility after its power line fell, causing a fire?
The court of appeals held that the trial court had erred because: (1) the evidence showed without dispute that the wire which fell was placed high into the air by the district and it was obviously regularly charged with high voltage, the district admitted that it was up to the district to take care of the line, its customers did not climb the line poles and it was common knowledge that people did not do so, no one except the district's employees and those entities it had contracts with were allowed to have any control over the line, so, except for the possibility of vandalism, there was no reasonable possibility that the wire fell as the result of anything other than the district not properly building or maintaining the line; and (2) to allow the district to escape liability solely upon the unsupported claim that vandals caused the break seemed to allow the finder of fact to decide an important question on guess and speculation.