Driver of minivan liable to bus passengers
A driver’s attempt to be found not liable for an accident 12 years ago involving his minivan and a Metrobus has failed.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador upheld a judge’s decision concerning the case of Douglas Noftall.
Noftall was dropping off his wife for work at an office building on Empire Avenue in St. John’s in March of 2002. While he attempted to make a left turn to head west on Empire, a Metrobus travelling in the opposite direction struck his van, which spun backwards before colliding with a car in the eastbound lane.
Two injured passengers initially took Noftall, the bus driver, Metrobus and the City of St. John’s to court following the accident.
Justice Richard LeBlanc ruled in 2011 that Noftall was fully liable for the collision. LeBlanc said the bus had the right of way and that Noftall failed to yield when he tried to turn left.
In February of this year, Noftall’s lawyer argued LeBlanc failed to properly assess evidence and came to conclusions on the facts of the case that wrongly identified his client as the liable party. Differences between the bus driver’s testimony and earlier statements he gave to police and insurance adjusters were highlighted in the appeal.
Noftall said a burgundy van travelling east stopped to allow his minivan to exit the parking lot and turn onto Empire Avenue. The bus driver’s statements indicated the bus was either already in the left-turning lane or was moving into it when the accident occurred. He also made reference to heavy traffic in those statements, but denied there was heavy traffic when he testified in the original trial.
Two of the three Supreme Court justices who heard the appeal felt LeBlanc did not properly assess the bus driver’s testimony when he concluded the bus did not pass vehicles in the eastbound lane. The location of the accident — near the intersection of Empire and Freshwater Road — was wide enough for two eastbound lanes of traffic, though only one officially exists.
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However, the Appeal Court felt that issue was immaterial to figuring out whether Noftall was liable.
“Regardless of whether Mr. Noftall was waved onto Empire by the driver of a burgundy van, he was emerging from a private building onto a roadway and had a duty to yield to approaching traffic,” the Appeal Court said in its decision. “He must be taken to have known that the invitation to proceed was only an invitation to pass in front of the burgundy van, for the driver of the burgundy van was in no position to guarantee to
Mr. Noftall that he could proceed in front of other lawfully approaching traffic or execute his turn safely.”
The Appeal Curt’s ruling noted the length of the left-turning lane from Empire onto Freshwater is approximately 100 feet and said it would make sense for traffic to move into that lane before it officially starts.
“Such traffic cannot always make perfect lateral moves into a short turning lane at the precise point where the road is delineated into two lanes,” it said.
The court also agreed the bus driver was driving with due care in the leadup to the accident and could not have taken any action to avoid the collision.