First trial scheduled in RFTA bus crash lawsuit | AspenTimes.com
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First trial scheduled in RFTA bus crash lawsuit

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
This Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus was involved in a Highway 82 accident on Oct. 26, 2013.
Colorado State Patrol |

Private meetings to attempt to reach a lawsuit settlement in the October 2013 bus crash on Highway 82 that injured several riders proved unsuccessful, according to a document filed this week in Pitkin County District Court.

“Mediation has been attempted and has been unsuccessful,” states a case management order filed Monday. “The parties will continue to explore settlement in good faith.”

With no resolution between attorneys for 10 plaintiffs and three defendants during a two-day conference in late January at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, the case appears to be headed to trial.

According to the order, the court set Dec. 7 to Dec. 18 as the period for a first trial, which will be held solely on liability issues. A jury will determine the percentage of blame to be assigned to three defendants: the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which owned and operated the bus that was involved in the accident; Theodore Potter, owner of a farm tractor the bus swerved to avoid before crashing; and Travis Wingfield, the tractor’s driver.

Aspen attorney Jeff Wertz, counsel for four of the injured riders, has been designated as lead counsel for all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in the case for the purpose of scheduling pre-trial hearings. He explained that the first trial will not involve any discussion of individual damage amounts. Presumably, damages would be the focus of a subsequent trial, which has not been scheduled.

“What the jury will be doing at the first trial is dividing a pie chart, not monetarily, deciding that Party A is X percent at fault, Party B is Y percent at fault and Party C is Z percent at fault,” Wertz said.

He declined to say exactly why the recent mediation sessions failed.

“The settlement conference was unsuccessful,” he said. “We hired a retired judge from a private mediation company, but we just didn’t get anything accomplished.”

At the time of the crash, which was investigated by Colorado State Patrol, authorities said there were 11 passengers on the bus. Of the 10 plaintiffs filing suit, only nine were aboard the bus when it crashed. The husband of one of the riders is a plaintiff, claiming “loss of consortium” due to the accident.

The nine riders are listed as: Catherine Elise Anthon, Maggie Fricke, Christina G. Andrade Guzman, Karla Marie Miller, Robert L. Pollard, Pedro Rivera, Rohan Samuels, Cecily Viall and Isidro A. Zelaya. Another plaintiff, Ryan Lee Anthon, Catherine Anthon’s husband, was not riding the bus.

The accident occurred in Garfield County, near mile marker 16 on Highway 82, at about 7 p.m. Oct. 26, 2013. Authorities said the Aspen-to-Glenwood Springs bus slammed against a concrete barrier on the right shoulder of the highway after the bus driver swerved to avoid a slow-moving tractor in the right lane.

Six riders were ejected from the bus, Colorado State Patrol said.

Jaime Nunez, 55, of Glenwood Springs, was the bus driver. He was the only one on the bus equipped with a safety belt, according to the lawsuit filed summer.

“Nunez either was not looking ahead or was looking but not able to see that tractor in the RFTA bus’ line of travel,” the lawsuit states. “Upon information and belief, Nunez’ eyesight was substandard on the date of the crash.”

The suit also claims that RFTA was negligent in that the transit agency “should have known that Nunez was unfit to be employed as a bus driver” based on poor eyesight.

RFTA’s attorney, Paul Taddune, told The Aspen Times previously that the bus-transit agency remains “very concerned about the welfare of all of the people who were injured.”

The suit says that the tractor Wingfield was driving falls within the definition of a “slow-moving vehicle” under Colorado law and is required to have a reflective emblem labeling it as such.

“At the time of the crash, the tractor did not have a compliant-reflective SMV emblem affixed to it,” the lawsuit states.

District Attorney Sherry Caloia said in November 2013 that her office would not pursue charges against Nunez. “The District Attorney does not believe that they can prove any violation of the traffic or criminal laws beyond a reasonable doubt,” a statement from her office said.

Last month, attorneys for two plaintiffs filed what’s known as “supplemental disclosures” with the court.

Catherine Anthon listed $93,638.81 in medical bills and other expenses so far. Some of that amount was covered by health insurance, the document says.

Viall listed $105,823.27 in medical expenses and other costs, according to the document filed by her attorney. Some of that total was covered by health insurance.

“Ms. Viall is continuing to receive treatment and the expenses associated therewith will be supplemented,” the disclosure reads.

andre@aspentimes.com


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