A second insurance provider sued by Gage County won't be required to cover damages related to the so-called Beatrice 6 case, a Lancaster County District Court judge said Thursday.
Judge Jodi L. Nelson said the liability policies Gage County purchased through Employer's Mutual Casualty in 1989 do not cover the acts that gave rise to a $28.1 million verdict against the county.
Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, James Dean, Debra Shelden and Kathleen Gonzalez were wrongfully convicted in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her downtown Beatrice apartment.
After serving a combined 75 years in prison, DNA evidence showed a seventh person committed the crime. The six were exonerated in 2008 and sued Gage County, winning the multimillion-dollar judgment in 2016.
Gage County's appeal to the 8th Circuit Court was rejected earlier this year, and the county hasn't petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
In the meantime, attorneys for the county asked a judge to determine whether or not a series of liability insurance policies would pay all or any part of the damages or associated legal fees in the case.
Nelson ruled in October the excess insurance policies Gage County carried through the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association were not in effect when the injuries against the six took place.
Thursday, Nelson ruled the liability insurance policies in effect when Gage County sheriff's deputies arrested the six at the end of a cold-case investigation also didn't provide coverage.
Gage County purchased a commercial general liability policy, a commercial umbrella policy and a linebacker policy from Employer's Mutual Casualty in 1989. Each went into effect on Feb. 2 of that year for a one-year period.
Nelson said the language of the general liability policy excluded "any and all professional services," but did not provide a definition as to what those services were.
Attorneys for Gage County argued that law enforcement was an occupation, not professional services, but Nelson said Nebraska case law defined "professional acts or services" as those requiring "special learning or attainments of some kind."
"A 'professional' act or service is one arising out of a vocation, calling, occupation, or employment involving specialized knowledge, labor, or skill, and the labor or skill involved in predominantly mental or intellectual, rather than physical or manual," the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in a 1968 case.
The state's appellate courts have not yet heard the issue, but federal courts have also held law enforcement services are professional services, Nelson wrote.
"The allegations in the Beatrice Six's complaints involve 'decision-making based on an officer's training and experience,'" Nelson said. "The Gage County sheriff and his deputies investigated the rape and murder of Helen Wilson by using law enforcement's specialized decision-making process."
Gage County's umbrella policy, which covered losses due to personal injury, excluded liability arising from "professional liability," as well as "excluded occupations liability," which according to the policy language included law enforcement.
Finally, the linebacker policy covered "damages from acts or omissions in the discharge of organizational duties," but like the umbrella policy, also excluded coverage for professional liability and excluded occupations liability, Nelson said.