Judge: RFTA must pay $150k in legal bills for 2013 crash trial

Emergency personnel respond to a RFTA bus crash on Highway 82 about 16 miles south of Glenwood Springs in October 2013. Eleven people were injured in the crash, some seriously, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
The Aspen Times file photo |

A District Court judge Wednesday ordered RFTA to pay nearly $150,000 in legal fees to the agency’s two co-defendants in a civil lawsuit over a 2013 bus crash on Highway 82.

The order by District Judge John Neiley comes more than two years after a jury found the driver of Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus 50 percent responsible for the crash, which injured several passengers.

Travis Wingfield, the driver of a slow-moving tractor the bus driver swerved to avoid at the last minute, was found 45 percent responsible for the accident, while the owner of the tractor, Ted Potter, was found 5 percent responsible for it.

RFTA was on the hook for some of the legal expenses incurred by Wingfield and Potter in the December 2015 trial because the agency chose to sue the two men for negligence during the trial in what is known as “cross claims,” according to Neiley’s order.

Because the jury found RFTA and bus driver Jaime Nunez 50 percent responsible for the crash, the court dismissed the negligence cross-claims. That allowed Wingfield and Potter to seek reimbursement from RFTA for defending those cross-claims, the order states.

Wingfield submitted a legal bill of $150,098, while Potter submitted a legal bill of $70,935, according to court documents.

Neiley then took into account the jury’s ruling and lowered Wingfield’s legal bill by 45 percent — his determined responsibility for the accident — and Potter’s by 5 percent. Therefore, RFTA must pay Wingfield $82,554 and Potter $67,389, according to Neiley’s order.

The money will be paid by RFTA’s insurance carrier and will not come out of its budget, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Thursday.

The crash occurred in October 2013 after dark when Nunez came upon the tractor, which was moving at about 20 mph, in the right-hand lane while pulling a mower. Nunez was driving between 60 and 65 mph and testified that he didn’t see the tractor until the last minute, then swerved into the left-hand lane, missed the tractor and lost control of the bus.

The bus hit a concrete Jersey barrier and ejected six of the 11 passengers on board. Some passengers suffered serious injuries, including a woman who ended up under the bus.

RFTA had to pay 50 percent of the passenger damages, as well.