Neb Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal Of Suit Against The State Over Spencer Dam Collapse

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    The Nebraska Supreme Court has upheld dismissal of a wrongful death suit brought against the Nebraska Dept of Natural Resources by the family of a man killed in the 2019 collapse of the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River.

     The family of Kenny Angel claimed the department was negligent in regulating the earth-and-concrete dam, owned by the Nebraska Public Power District, despite having classified it as having “significant hazard potential.

     Justice William Cassel wrote in a 19-page ruling that the responsibility for the dam rested with NPPD, and that although the high court sympathized with the Angels for their losses, a 2005 state law granted the department immunity from lawsuits.

     The Spencer Dam failed on March 14, 2019, during Nebraska’s “bomb cyclone” flooding. Angel’s home just below the dam was washed away as was the family’s Straw Bale Saloon and a campground. His body was never found. 

    An independent review of the dam collapse concluded there was nothing NPPD could have done, but that the utility had underestimated the potential threat of “life-threatening flooding” if the dam failed and that safety officials had “a notable lack of knowledge about ice-run-related” dam failures.

     Workers from the NPPD hydropower station on the dam had driven to Angel’s house and shouted “get out now” before they fled before the collapse.  NPPD agreed last year to pay the Angel family a $2.5 million dollar settlement.