Roaring Fork Transportation Authority insurance pays $600K to crash passengers
The Aspen Times
An insurance company for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority paid a little less than $600,000 to nine passengers on a bus that crashed on Highway 82 in 2013, according to the agency’s lawyer.
The claims against RFTA and two other defendants were settled late last year, though most of the settlements were tied to confidentiality agreements that forbid plaintiffs from talking about them, according to lawyers involved in the case.
However, because RFTA is a public entity, the agency’s lawyer, Paul Taddune, released the amount of settlements paid by the One Beacon Insurance Group. The amount of the settlements paid by the two other defendants remains confidential, according to Alan Feldman, a lawyer who represented four of the passengers.
The crash occurred after dark in October 2013 on Highway 82 near El Jebel after the bus driver swerved to avoid a slow-moving tractor in the right lane. The driver, Jaime Nunez, missed the tractor and ended up in the median between lanes, then over-corrected trying to get the bus back on the road and hit a concrete barrier.
Nunez testified he didn’t see the tractor until the last second.
Six of the 11 passengers on board were ejected in the crash, including one woman who ended up under the bus.
The tractor had a mower attached to it, which at least partially obscured the tractor’s rear lights, and did not have a reflective emblem on the back identifying it as a slow-moving vehicle, according to testimony at the trial.
Two other drivers testified they nearly hit the tractor as well just before the bus crash.
While the District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges against Nunez, nine passengers and one of their spouses sued RFTA, Nunez, the tractor driver, Travis Wingfield, and the tractor owner, Ted Potter.
A Pitkin County jury of four women and two men determined a year ago that Nunez and RFTA, which were considered one defendant, were 50 percent responsible for the crash, while Wingfield bore 45 percent responsibility and Potter was liable for 5 percent.
The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act capped RFTA’s total monetary liability in the case at $990,000, according to lawyers and court documents. Each individual’s monetary damages were limited to a maximum of $350,000.
Records released Friday by RFTA as the result of an open records request filed by The Aspen Times indicate that the agency’s insurance company paid out a total of $596,001 to the nine passengers and the one non-passenger.
The largest amount — $210,000 — was paid to Catherine Anthon of Glenwood Springs, who ended up under the bus after the crash, according to Taddune. Anthon’s husband, Ryan Anthon, who was not on the bus, received $5,000, according to Taddune.
Cecily Viall received $95,000, while Isidro Zelaya was paid $85,000 and Pedro Rivera was paid $80,000, according to Taddune. Robert Polland received $75,000, Rohan Samuels was paid $21,000, Christina Andrade Guzman and Karla Miller each received $10,000, while Maggie Fricke was paid $5,001, according to Taddune.
Taxpayers contributed $100,000 toward the case in the form of RFTA’s insurance deductible, Taddune said.
The case involving the passengers is complete, though one issue remains to decide in the lawsuit. That issue has to do with the legal costs incurred by Potter and Wingfield, who were sued by RFTA during the trial in what is known as a “cross-claim.”
When the jury found RFTA most responsible for the crash, the agency lost its claim and could be on the hook for some of Potter and Wingfield’s legal costs. Wingfield racked up $180,000 in legal fees, while Potter spent more than $72,000 on his legal defense, according to motions filed in the case.
A hearing has been scheduled in July to address those costs, according to motions filed in the case.
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