POLITICS

Lawyer says he will appeal dismissal of class-action lawsuit over moose crashes

09/22/2014 09:51 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:04 EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A Newfoundland lawyer who lost his bid to hold the province liable for moose-vehicle crashes hopes a panel of appeal court judges will see the novel case differently.

Ches Crosbie said Monday he will appeal a provincial Supreme Court ruling that dismissed the class-action lawsuit he spearheaded.

He also urged the province to settle with plaintiffs in light of what he called a "moral victory" that has already forced the government to act.

"The suffering that the members of the class have undergone has public sympathy," Crosbie said at a news conference. He was flanked by plaintiffs and supporters holding placards that said: "Stop the Carnage" and "Get the Moose Off Our Roads."

Judge Robert Stack of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled last week the province is not liable for the collisions and took reasonable precautions.

"Nothing in the evidence suggests that the defendant failed to act in accordance with reason or good sense," he wrote.

Crosbie believes a three-judge appeal court panel may disagree.

"The case is unprecedented in many ways," he said. "It's rife with live legal issues for a court of appeal."

The lawsuit involved 135 plaintiffs who needed hospital care, and at least 15 estates of those killed in collisions since 2001. Crosbie would only say that several million dollars in total compensation is sought.

The province has expressed condolences to crash victims. But it has vigorously defended its use of roadside signs, limited fencing, brush cutting and public awareness campaigns.

Crosbie said it was "discourteous in the extreme" that Transportation Minister Nick McGrath released Stack's decision Friday to the media before he had a chance to contact clients.

It's protocol for lawyers to get a day to review judgments and inform plaintiffs so they don't first hear it on the news, he said.

McGrath said in an interview that making the ruling public as soon as he received it was the most open thing to do.

He declined comment on Crosbie's call for an out-of-court settlement. He said the government will decide next steps after reviewing a $5-million pilot project. It included more hunting, motion-sensor highway warning systems that failed to work most of the time, and 16 kilometres of moose fencing near Barachois Pond Provincial Park in southwestern Newfoundland.

McGrath said he often drives the Trans-Canada Highway at night. He hasn't had a close call with a moose, but said he is well aware that many travellers have had devastating accidents.

"I certainly do care and I empathize with all of those people. But my empathy is not going to avoid the incidents. It's the different processes that we put in place that will do that."

An agreed statement of facts included statistics up to 2010 when there were 776 collisions, according to police records. That compared to 681 in 2009 and 474 in 2008.

Crosbie argued moose are a public nuisance that the government introduced to the island in 1904 as a source of meat and then failed to control.

Adult moose are top-heavy animals weighing between 360 and 450 kilograms or 800 to 1,000 pounds. They sprint across roadways with little or no warning and crash through windshields.

Brent Cole, 50, sat in a wheelchair Monday as Crosbie spoke. The former provincial conservation officer had removed dozens of moose from the roads before he struck one on the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Gander on Oct. 8, 2006.

"I never had time to have a fright," he said. In a split second, the animal was in front of his Chevy Impala as he drove about 100 kilometres an hour, he said.

Cole was paralyzed from the underarms down.

Money won't ease his chronic pain or replace the life he'd known, he said. But the married father of three children would like some financial security.

"It will look after my family once I'm gone," he said in an interview.

"All the money in the world can't fix me."

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