Motorist more responsible than NJ Transit bus driver in Turnpike crash, court rules

Submitted by New Jersey Bus Accident Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

nj-transit-bus
A state appellate panel has ruled in favor of NJ Transit in a lawsuit filed against the agency by a motorist over a 2011 bus accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. Above is a file photo of a NJ Transit bus in Kearny in May 2012. (Jennifer Brown/The Star-Ledger) (Jennifer Brown/The Star-Ledger)

NEWARK — A state appeals court this week ruled a motorist was more responsible than a NJ Transit bus driver in causing a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike in July 2011.

Based on that finding, the appellate panel ordered a judgment in favor of NJ Transit and the bus driver, Harold Gilliam, in the lawsuit filed against them by motorist Doaa Dashoush and her husband, Mazen Diab.

After the transit agency and Gilliam won a jury verdict in February 2014, the trial judge granted Dashoush’s motion to set aside the verdict and order a new trial.

But in a decision released on Monday, the appellate panel reversed the judge’s ruling and determined that the jury’s decision should stand.

While the appellate judges found Gilliam was negligent, they also pointed to Dashoush’s “overwhelming negligence” in causing the accident.

“Similarly, we are satisfied that the record supports a finding that, although Gilliam was negligent, his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the accident because of Dashoush’s overwhelming negligence in accelerating into the bus after it had begun entering her lane,” the decision states.

The crash occurred at about 6:30 p.m. on July 21, 2011 as Gilliam entered the Turnpike at the Exit 16E interchange, looking to head south, the decision states. No passengers were aboard the bus at the time, the decision states.

After going through the toll booth, Gilliam was driving in a right exit lane and looking for an opportunity to merge left into a travel lane, the decision states. The traffic was heavy and moving slowly, the decision states.

Dashoush was driving in the travel lane next to Gilliam, which was separated from the exit lane by a solid white line, the decision states.

Gilliam has said he saw Dashoush stopped in her lane and believed she would allow him into the lane, the decision states. He then began to move to the left in front of Dashoush’s car, the decision states.

Gilliam was nearly in the lane when Dashoush blew her horn and accelerated, causing him to apply his brakes, the decision states. “As a result, Dashoush’s car collided with the driver’s side of the bus, hitting its rear wheel and bumper,” the decision states.

Dashoush claimed the accident caused her “orthopedic injuries,” the decision states.

But after a three-day trial, the jury deliberated for about 10 minutes and “found that Gilliam was negligent, but that his negligence was not a proximate cause of the accident,” the decision states.

The trial judge, however, set aside the verdict on June 2, 2014 and ordered a new trial after accepting Dashoush’s argument that the jury’s finding was “inconsistent,” the decision states.

NJ Transit and Gilliam then appealed the judge’s decision, claiming the jury’s verdict was not inconsistent and was supported by the evidence, the decision states.

The appellate judges found no basis in setting aside the verdict in light of the testimony of Gilliam, who explained how the collision occurred after Dashoush accelerated.

Given that testimony, “the jury could well have concluded that, even though Gilliam was negligent in staying in the exit lane and then moving left over a solid white line to enter the travel lane, the accident would not have happened had Dashoush not suddenly accelerated into the back of the bus after pausing to allow it to enter her lane,” the decision states.

“Based on the testimony, the jury could have found that Dashoush and Gilliam were both negligent, that their negligent acts were proximate causes of the accident, and that Dashoush was more negligent than Gilliam,” according to the decision.

Orginiallt published on nj.com, written by Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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