By K C Pawling, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist

These last few weeks I have had the privilege of driving parts of the state doing sign audits. While I know some of you reading this article don’t necessarily enjoy the fact that I am doing sign audits, I do enjoy seeing parts of the state that I normally don’t get to see. Once a person leaves the pavement it really takes on a whole new character really. I see things like repurposed corn cribs and small grain bins converted into either small bar type outdoor structures or, believe it or not, a grain bin converted into a two-story residential type of structure complete with outside deck. I’m sure the owner probably rents it out for someone to have an “experience”. One other thing I get to see, is really a growing concern for all of us involved in county government.

The concern that I am speaking of is the trees and brush growing rampant in the county right-of-way. I understand that some of you are thinking that according to state statute, that is landowner responsibility not county. Yes, you are correct according to Nebraska Revised Statutes §39-1811 and 39-1812, mowing and tree trimming are responsibility of the landowners BUT if they don’t do it then who does?

Well, according to Nebraska Revised Statutes §39-1813, 39-301, and 13-912 the burden then falls on the county. It becomes a county responsibility or burden if the trees or shrubs block the line of sight of a sign, intersection, driveway, or if a vehicle leaves the driving surface and contacts a tree in the right-of-way. This is made very clear when a tort claim is filed against a county usually resulting from a vehicular incident. For those of you thinking that we can use the defense “we weren’t aware,” it’s hard to believe that when your motor grader drives past it every time the road gets bladed and has tree scratches down the side of it.

Here are a couple of past NIRMA claims that illustrate the result of failure to maintain obstructions in the right-of-way:

Case #1: Mature unharvested corn crop obstructed intersection of two rural county gravel roads, it was planted right up to the roadside. Female driver with right of way attempted a left turn and at the same time a northbound driver driven by another party struck her vehicle, spinning her out across the intersection. She was life flighted to Kearney and later transported to UNMC with a traumatic brain injury. She lost her job as a nurse because she was no longer able to function in that role and had a complete loss of earning capacity.

Case #2: Vegetation obstructed view of motorists at rural intersection. There was a head-on collision between two pickups. The 26-year-old male driver, a self-employed carpenter who sued the county and the landowner, had $1.6 million in medical bills.

Now there are a few different ways these situations can be handled, but they are going to be unpopular among all parties involved. I cannot stress enough that we need to start handling these problems instead of kicking them down the road and letting the situations continue to grow out of control. We need to understand that these are someone’s families and friends. I know I wouldn’t want it to be mine. Something for you to ponder, once you know, you know! Question is what are you going to do with it?

Remember, there are specific statutory procedures for the method and timing of notifying landowners of road right-of-way obstructions, and how action can be taken to remove them and potentially even recover the costs of doing so. Check with your County Attorney or call me for assistance with this process. Let’s make sure everyone makes it home safe tonight!

If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at or 402-310-4417.