Lucila Velasquez-Burgos was heading home from her late-night custodial shift when a teenage driver, who was in a stolen vehicle and fleeing from police, rammed into her.
The 57-year-old Omaha woman has said she lives with constant reminders of the April 2017 crash.
Fractures to both legs that, more than a year later, leave her walking with a limp. The inability to work a second job that required her to go up and down stairs.
Last week, the Omaha City Council approved a $400,000 settlement with Velasquez-Burgos.
Her attorney, Bob Knowles, said the damages are meant to help cover her six-figure medical bills, lost wages over the months she was recovering and future loss of income.
“I think she’s satisfied, but no one who suffers these kinds of injuries is ever fully satisfied,” he said. “It’s not like this was a gift from the city. She’s just trying to get her life back.”
As a result of the settlement, a pending lawsuit against the city won’t go to trial and will be dismissed. The city will pay the settlement from its contingent liability fund.
Cities are held responsible for injuries to innocent third parties in police chases under Nebraska’s strict liability law, sponsored in 1981 by State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Past Omaha City Councils have asked the Nebraska Legislature to make changes to the law. One request, pushed by then-Councilman Garry Gernandt in 2009, was for the law to be amended so that the city wasn’t automatically liable to third parties unless police actions were deemed negligent. That’s how the law works in other states.
Critics have said changing the law could lead to an increase in police chases, but Omaha police have said they have internal guidelines on when officers should pursue a vehicle.
The council approved the settlement without discussion.
According to court documents, Velasquez-Burgos alleged that she was “violently struck” suddenly and without warning about 2 a.m. on April 27, 2017. Her leg injuries required “extensive” medical care, including multiple surgeries.
Velasquez-Burgos said the crash happened when law enforcement officers were trying to apprehend the teenager, who was resisting arrest.
The city’s Law Department acknowledged that Omaha police were pursuing a stolen vehicle that was used in an armed robbery and being driven erratically by the teenager.
But the city argued that Velasquez-Burgos’ injuries were caused by the teenager, “over whom the defendant (the city) had no control.” The city noted in court documents that the teenager ran a red flashing light.
Knowles said Velasquez-Burgos couldn’t bring a claim against the teenage driver because he wasn’t insured. He was ultimately charged with three felonies, but all were dropped except failing to stop and render aid. He was given nine months of probation.
Knowles called the situation “very, very unfortunate.”
“She wishes that early morning never happened,” he said. “There’s no amount of money to get her health back or get her to walk (normally) again.”
On Tuesday, the council will consider two additional settlement agreements totaling almost $200,000.
One would put to rest a lawsuit involving a man who says he got into an accident at 40th and Pinkney Streets after the city failed to fix a stop sign damaged in an earlier crash.
The other case involves a driver who says he was struck by a city snowplow driver at 85th and Maple Streets.