Victims claim province negligent in managing moose population
St. John’s lawyer Ches Crosbie has filed a class-action lawsuit against the provincial government over moose-vehicle accidents.
Crosbie was to be joined by the Save Our People Action Committee this morning at a news conference in St. John’s to announce the legal action.
Moose were introduced to the province about 100 years ago. The class action alleges wildlife management practices have allowed the moose population to reach between 120,000 and 200,000.
There are 700-800 moose-vehicle accidents a year.
Moose stand six- to seven-feet tall, with males weighing more than 1,000 pounds, and females, 800 pounds.
Crosbie notes in his statement of claim that life on the island of Newfoundland was wiped out in the last glaciation and when plant and animal species developed 18,000 years ago, moose were not among them.
“In the early 1900s, the defendant decided to bring moose to the island for the purpose of releasing them and populating the island,” reads the statement of claim, adding there is no natural predator other than black bears, who prey on young calves.
The class action alleges the province’s highway system has been constructed and maintained without adequate consideration to moose-vehicle safety issues.
“In collisions at highway speeds (roughly 70 to 110 km/h), a car’s bumper and front grill typically will break the moose’s legs, causing the body of the moose to clear the car’s hood and deliver the bulk of the body weight into the windshield, crushing the windshield, front roof support beams and anyone in the front seat.”
The claim states certain steps could have been taken, such as fencing, controlling vegetation along roadsides, increased moose hunting and a spring cull.
It also blames the province for not properly documenting the number and location of moose accidents and moose warnings from motorists, and for the lack of a consistent awareness program.
Hugh George, 59, and Ben Bellows, 54, are the representative plaintiffs in the class action.
Bellows’ accident occurred 10 kilometres west of Clarenville on July 10, 2003, as he was returning home to Mount Moriah after bringing his daughter to St. John’s.
Bellows, according to the statement of claim, was travelling 92 kilometres per hour when he struck the moose.
He ended up a quadriplegic, and neither he nor his wife, Helen, have been able to work since the accident due to the care required for Bellows, previously a school board maintenance worker.
It’s been five months since Hugh George’s life was forever altered, and he remains in the Miller Centre with hopes of finally going home the end of the month.
On Aug. 5, George left work in St. John’s for home in Dildo. A foreman/carpenter with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, he was working on his own new home in Dildo and went to his mother’s house in Dunville to get a chopsaw and bench.
It was dusky and George drove below speed limit, as he had years of experience on the Argentia Access Road, which is well travelled by moose.
“I made it as far as the rock cut on the Argentia Access Road and that’s when I met the moose. I ended up hitting a guard rail as well,” he told the Telegram in an interview at his bedside.
After that, he doesn’t remember much of what happened.
His wife, Sandra, got a call that night to go directly to the Health Sciences Centre.
“He was on life support for nine days,” said Sandra. Even afterwards, he didn’t wake from an induced coma for days after he should have.
She first walked into ICU to see George in a neck brace, hooked up to tubes and covered in blood, which turned out to be the moose’s.
“I had never seen anything like it. I don’t want to see it anymore,” Sandra said.
“When it happened to him, and I stood there in ICU all those days, looking at him ,you wonder is he going to wake up, is he going to die because of an animal?”
George said he couldn’t even walk across the room after waking up.
He said his left field of vision is gone, and while rehabilitative services is helping his left leg, his left arm remains mostly immobile. It’s unlikely he will return to his previous duties.
Prior to his accident, George was getting ready to floor up his house, for which had the concrete poured. Men from his church — Trinity Bay South Salvation Army — did the work for him when they saw his condition.
The couple have had to make renovations to the home they’d been living in to accommodate George’s injuries.
Sandra George said she wrote Environment Minister Charlene Johnson about her husband’s accident, pleading for more attention on the dangers of moose. Not long afterwards, she heard the news that a 22-year old man was killed on the Tilton Barrens near New Harbour after striking a moose.
“Spray something on the Highway as a deterrent for them coming out to feed,” Hugh George said.
“The ditches are not being cleaned out like years ago.”
George had a close call more than 15 years ago, hitting a moose with a small truck on the passenger side — he figures if someone was with him, they would have been killed.
“We live in a part of the world where it gets dark early and it stays dark for a long time. To me, the moose have more rights than we have,” Sandra said.
“You get on the highway on any given morning at 6:30 — hundreds and hundreds of cars travelling in here to work. Same thing in the evening.”
Sandra continues to drive back and forth from Dildo — she’d taken time off from her doctor’s office job in St. John’s, but has been tending to her husband. She said she can’t let fear bother her.
She had a close call two days after George’s accident, driving home to Dildo from St. John’s with friends.
“A moose comes along and we went right under his chin. I said ‘His drool is on the roof,’” she recalls.
“This is preventable. Don’t dance around it and say ‘Don’t drive at night.’ That’s foolishness. You got to drive at night.”
The class action must go through a certification process at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in order to proceed.