Verdict in bus crash could cost transit agency thousands more |

Verdict in bus crash could cost transit agency thousands more

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

The recent verdict in a bus-crash trial could mean the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is on the hook not only for passenger damages but for at least some of the legal costs incurred by its fellow defendants.

That’s according to a motion filed Wednesday by the tractor owner and the man driving the slow-moving tractor RFTA driver Jaime Nunez swerved to avoid on Highway 82 in October 2013.

The claim centers on the fact that RFTA sued both Travis Wingfield, the tractor driver, and Ted Potter, the tractor owner, for damages during the trial last month. However, because the jury found Nunez 50 percent responsible for the crash, while Wingfield was deemed 45 percent responsible and Potter was 5 percent responsible, RFTA lost those damage claims and is responsible for Potter and Wingfield’s legal costs, according to the motion.

Wingfield spent more than $180,000 on the two-week trial and other hearings related to the case, according to a list of costs filed by his lawyer, Peter Dusbabek of Colorado Springs. Dusbabek declined to comment Thursday.

Potter has not yet filed a list of the costs he spent on the trial.

Gordon Vaughan, RFTA’s attorney in Denver, said Thursday he disagrees that Wingfield and Potter are entitled to their legal costs based on the December verdict.

The crash occurred after dark near El Jebel when Nunez came upon the tractor, which was driving about 20 mph in the right-hand lane and pulling a mower. Nunez was going between 60 and 65 mph and testified that he didn’t see the tractor — which didn’t have a reflective emblem identifying it as a slow-moving vehicle and had partially obscured lights — until the last minute.

Nunez swerved into the left-hand lane and missed the tractor, but lost control of the bus when he over-corrected and hit a concrete Jersey barrier, ejecting six of 11 passengers on board. Some were seriously injured, with one woman ending up under the bus.

In December, a jury determined the percentage of responsibility for each defendant. A second trial, which has not yet been scheduled, will determine monetary damages.

Lawyers involved in the case say RFTA gambled by making the cross-claims against Wingfield and Potter and lost. Now, in addition to having to pay 50 percent of the passenger damages and legal costs, the transit agency could have to pay at least some of Wingfield and Potter’s legal costs, depending on how District Court Judge John Neily rules on the motion.