Tragic testimony in moose-vehicle lawsuit

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Provincial government accused of negligence

By Mark Rendell
The Telegram
On a March evening in 2009, Jennifer Pilgrim’s husband, Roy, was driving home to Grand Falls-Windsor when tragedy struck. He had been attending a meeting at Bishop Fall’s United Church. As he passed beneath an underpass and exited off the main street towards the Trans-Canada Highway, a moose dashed out of the ditch and onto the road in front of him. 

Ben Bellows.

Two vehicles were involved in the accident, Pilgrim said, but her husband was the only fatality. One side of his face was crushed, which meant they had to hold a closed-casket funeral.

“It’s bad enough to tell them that their father is gone,” Pilgrim said, recalling the phone calls to her children after the accident. “But you have to tell them that they can’t see him. It’s heartbreaking.”

Pilgrim was the first person to testify in a class-action lawsuit about moose-vehicle collisions that began Wednesday at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. The provincial government is being accused of negligence for not taking proper steps to reduce moose-vehicle collisions.

“I would like to see the government put more fencing across the island,” she said. “I know they can’t do it all at once, but they (could) do so much each year. Because I wouldn’t want to see another family go through something like this.

“There’s two kinds of pain,” she said. “I have the pain or the heartache of my husband gone. The ones that are injured have the physical pain that they have to live with the rest of their lives.”

Ben Bellows, who is quadriplegic due to a moose-vehicle accident, was the second witness. He testified that he was about 10 kilometres west of Clarenville on a clear July evening in 2003 when “right out of the blue a moose jumped up and smacked into me.”

The 800-pound moose came from the right side of the road, he said.

“For miles and miles you could see alders on the side of the road that needed to be cut that wasn’t cut,” Bellows said.

“I never had time to respond. Until you’re in an accident yourself, you’ll never, ever understand how quick something like this can happen.”

He spent seven months in the hospital following the accident. He lost a significant amount of mobility as well as 40 per cent of his lung capacity.

“I’m living a life in a prison,” he said.

Bellows is the representative plaintiff in the case. He said he will seek compensation, but his main goal is holding the government accountable.

 “We pay taxes every year to keep the highway safe, our cars have to be inspected, everything. But nothing on this one,” he said. “Fencing works. Fencing would be my priority.”

Personal injury lawyer Ches Crosbie is handling the case.

“Everyone knows someone who has had a collision,” Crosbie said in his opening statement. “It’s not something that’s been hidden from the government.”

Yet there has never been a decision at the executive level of government about how to reduce the number of moose-vehicle collisions, Crosbie said.

He said public officials have been “grossly negligent” in researching the issue and advising the government.

According to the Save Our People Action Committee, there are, on average, 700 moose-vehicle accidents a year. The plaintiffs want that number at least cut in half.

One of the lawsuit’s goals is pushing the province toward installing more fencing and increased brush-cutting along highways.

Crosbie acknowledged certain measures had been taken — signs, public-awareness campaigns,

the sometimes non-functioning moose- detection system — but said these “chosen methods of mitigating moose-vehicle accidents are ineffectual.”

The province’s lawyer, Peter Ralph, did not give an opening statement.     

As the case continues this week, a number of experts, including Newfoundland historian Bob Cuff, will speak about the moose-vehicle collision problem and the success or failure of the government’s efforts to deal with it.  

mark.rendell@tc.tc

Organizations: Supreme Court, People Action Committee

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Clarenville

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Recent comments

  • Brian
    April 03, 2014 - 19:33

    It's tragic when anyone dies violently, whether it is a moose vehicle accident or a slippery road or any other random event. It concerns me that we have to blame someone. If I drive too fast, I accept the risk of an accident. If I have an accident, should my spouse sue because the police didn't stop me from driving too fast. Where does it stop? Really!

  • Beverley Penney
    April 03, 2014 - 18:33

    I totally support the actions of Ben Bellows and the others who are taking this to court. I have myself loss my husband to a moose-vehicle accident in Aug/2000. My husband was only 36 years old and on his way fishing, something he loved to do on his days off. Something has to be done and fences I feel would be a great thing. Lets do something to stop another family from the horrible pain of losing a loved one. In Memory of Ron Penney

  • Don II
    April 03, 2014 - 09:56

    It appears that the unethical Government of Newfoundland feels it can beat this case, otherwise, they would have settled it out of Court. It appears that the Government of Newfoundland could care less about the death, pain, suffering, losses both financial and personal and lifelong disability caused by moose/vehicle collisions that are directly attributable to the Government's negligence in not adequately controlling the increasing moose population and in failing to put protective measures in place along the highways that are frequented regularly by moose in Newfoundland and Labrador. I have had only one very close call with hitting a moose with my car some years ago. The moose was a huge Bull moose that was standing on the Trans Canada Highway on the other side of a hill at night. When my car topped the hill, the moose immediately appeared in my headlights! I did not have time to react or hit the brakes and missed the moose by only inches. I stopped my car and blew my car horn at the moose to scare him back into the woods but he had already run away and was probably just as frightened as I was at nearly being killed!

    • Lee Gality
      April 03, 2014 - 19:30

      Based on your own testimony, had you hit the moose, the negligence would have been yours.