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Lamprecht v. Schluntz

Court of Appeals of Nebraska

October 20, 2015

ARTHUR AND LINDA LAMPRECHT, APPELLANTS,
v.
BRENT SCHLUNTZ AND GERALD SCHLUNTZ, APPELLEES

Page 647

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Appeal from the District Court for Furnas County: DAVID URBOM, Judge.

Tony Brock, of Brock Law Offices, P.C., for appellants.

James B. Luers and Krista M. Carlson, of Wolfe, Snowden, Hurd, Luers & Ahl, L.L.P., for appellees.

MOORE, Chief Judge, and PIRTLE and BISHOP, Judges.

OPINION

Page 650

[23 Neb.App. 337] Bishop, Judge.

Arthur Lamprecht and his wife, Linda Lamprecht, brought this action against Brent Schluntz and his brother, Gerald Schluntz, seeking compensation for property damage that the Lamprechts sustained from a fire that originated on Brent's farm during a wheat harvest. The Lamprechts' sole theory of recovery was premised on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The district court for Furnas County granted summary judgment in favor of the Schluntzes, and the Lamprechts now appeal. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On a hot and windy day in June 2012, Brent, Gerald, and their employee, Christopher Joppa, were harvesting wheat on Brent's real property in Furnas County. As part of the harvesting operation, Joppa was operating a Case 9260 tractor with a grain cart attached. Brent and Gerald were operating combines. Brent and Gerald jointly owned the wheat, tractor, and combines, and Gerald was the sole owner of the grain cart.

According to Brent, he, Gerald, and Joppa were doing " back-landing" in the wheatfield; Brent was operating a combine and was heading west, Gerald was in a combine heading east, and Joppa was in the tractor with the attached grain cart heading to unload Gerald's combine. Brent testified that " as soon as the grain cart pulled up," he saw a " flash . . . underneath the tractor." Brent testified that he " pulled out and tried to wave at those guys, because they couldn't see it, to get out and try to stomp it out or get out of there, but it just exploded." Brent called the fire department immediately, and [23 Neb.App. 338] he, Gerald, and Joppa drove their respective pieces of farm equipment to the road. Brent testified the fire spread " like gasoline" although they attempted to " disk" the fields to create firebreaks to stop the fire. Several firefighters and other personnel responded to the fire around 3:30 p.m. Joe Kresser, the Stamford, Nebraska, fire chief, testified that when he arrived on the scene, the fire was in the wheatfield east of Brent's house.

Brent's property was located approximately 2 miles south and half a mile west of the Lamprechts' farm in Oxford, Nebraska, where Arthur raised corn, wheat, beans, and cattle. On the day of the fire, Arthur and his son were harvesting on Arthur's property and had gone to Holdrege, Nebraska, to pick up Arthur's truck from the repair shop. When they returned to Arthur's farm around 4:30 p.m., Arthur saw smoke coming in their direction from the south. When Arthur got to where the fire was located, his wheat stubble was on fire and it had burned through a couple neighboring fields. Arthur attempted to shred his crops to make a firebreak or " disk out the fire." Arthur testified that the fire came so fast he " couldn't get in front of it" and that it went into his pasture. Arthur continued to disk lengthwise to the fire so it would not burn sideways, and one of his neighbors also helped disk with his tractor. Arthur testified that there were " lots of people there from the fire departments and the neighbors" trying to put the fire out.

Kresser testified that when he first arrived at Brent's property to put out the fire, he spoke to Brent to get his opinion about what caused the fire. Kresser testified that a field fire can sometimes start when a " bearing" " go[es] out or get[s] hot or something of that sort, and somebody can drive in a field, an exhaust pipe can start it." Kresser recalled that Brent at that time thought the fire was caused by

Page 651

an electrical short on the tractor. Kresser did not examine the tractor because by the time the fire was under control enough to where he felt comfortable leaving the scene, the tractor was no longer in the field and Brent " wasn't around."

[23 Neb.App. 339] Kresser authored a fire log the day after the fire. According to the fire log, the fire burned approximately 1,200 acres and was driven by high winds from the south and temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire log notes that the property owner, Brent, suspected the cause of the fire was an electrical short on the tractor pulling the grain cart and that upon inspection there was a " burnt wire" on the tractor.

According to Brent, he asked Joppa what started the fire, but " [h]e didn't know, either." Brent told Joppa he saw " [the fire] come down from underneath the tractor." Brent recalled that he told Kresser that he saw a " burnt wire" underneath the tractor, but he did not know " if it was from the fire coming up on it." None of the farm equipment, including ...


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