Home Vehicle Accidents Lawsuit over Amherst crash pits mother against son and her brother | Local News

Lawsuit over Amherst crash pits mother against son and her brother | Local News

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In October 2020, a Niagara Falls teen was driving his uncle’s car and got into a crash in northwest Amherst that injured his younger brother, a passenger in the vehicle.

Now he finds himself named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff: his mother.

Catherine Dunstan’s lawsuit contends her son recklessly operated the vehicle and her brother, the teen’s uncle, shouldn’t have trusted his nephew to drive it.

Her complaint, filed last month in State Supreme Court, also blames the Town of Amherst and Erie County for creating unsafe road conditions that led to the accident at Sweet Home and Tonawanda Creek roads.

The attorney for the town said officials followed proper procedure in recommending the placement of stop signs at the intersection. Erie County, which installed the stop signs on Tonawanda Creek prior to the crash, declined comment on the lawsuit.

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The crash that generated this intrafamily lawsuit took place just before 2 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2020, according to the lawsuit, the accident report and information provided by attorneys.

Jake D. Dunstan, who was 16 then, was northbound on Sweet Home Road toward the T-intersection with Tonawanda Creek Road, where Sweet Home ends. His brother, Dominic, who was 14, was a passenger in the sedan borrowed from their uncle, Anthony F. Rosati.

Historically, the intersection had a stop sign for traffic on Sweet Home, preparing to turn left or right onto Tonawanda Creek Road, but no stop signs controlling the traffic heading east or west on Tonawanda Creek.

This changed in 2020, after neighbors lobbied for stop signs as a safety measure for motorists and pedestrians because of heavier traffic along Tonawanda Creek, said Michael J. Chmiel, the outside counsel for the town. The Amherst Traffic Safety Board held hearings and reviewed data on traffic levels at the intersection before recommending the addition of stop signs, a change supported by the Amherst Town Board, Chmiel said.

Tonawanda Creek is a county road, so Erie County installed the stop signs after agreeing they were needed.







Stop signs on Tonawanda Creek Road, at Sweet Home, in Amherst.




County crews installed stop signs an unknown period of time before the crash. However, crews covered the signs with black plastic bags because they didn’t go into effect immediately, Chmiel said. The county did set up electronic roadside signs farther east and west from the intersection that warned drivers the stop signs would be put in use on Oct. 12.

According to the lawsuit and police accident report, Jake Dunstan was turning left, or west, onto Tonawanda Creek from Sweet Home, when he was struck by an SUV driven by Catherine Wildey traveling east on Tonawanda Creek through the intersection.

Wildey’s vehicle had the right of way because the stop signs on Tonawanda Creek weren’t active yet.

Catherine Dunstan’s lawsuit holds several parties responsible for Dominic Dunstan’s injuries, which included head and spine injuries and lingering headaches.

She blames her son Jake for careless and reckless operation of the vehicle. Chmiel said previous statements from Jake Dunstan revealed that he had earned his driver’s license just weeks or months before the crash and he wasn’t familiar with that intersection.

Also, according to Chmiel, Erie County has obtained video footage of the crash that appears to show Jake Dunstan did not come to a complete stop before pulling into Tonawanda Creek Road.

While Jake Dunstan told Amherst police that it was hard to tell, from his position on Sweet Home Road, that the stop signs weren’t active, Wildey told police Dunstan never stopped before entering the intersection. 

Both vehicles were extensively damaged and towed from the scene and Wildey was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries to her left hand and face. Wildey’s son, who was 5 at the time, was strapped into the back seat and wasn’t injured, said Deanna Russell, Wildey’s attorney.

Catherine Dunstan’s lawsuit names Rosati because the owner of a vehicle is legally responsible under state law when another driver permitted to operate the vehicle is involved in a crash. But the complaint went further in arguing her brother was “negligent” to let an incompetent or unqualified driver borrow the vehicle.

Russell said it’s her understanding Jake Dunstan was driving the car because his uncle was preparing to sell it for his nephew’s use.

The lawsuit faults the Town of Amherst for recklessly placing the stop signs at the intersection, failing to properly warn motorists about the stop signs and failing to completely cover up the signs until they were active.

Chmiel, Amherst’s attorney, responded that the town recommended the placement of the signs but played no role in their installation, or activation, because Tonawanda Creek is a county road and the work was performed by county crews.

Erie County must defend against the claims over how the signs were installed. The question for the town, Chmiel said, is whether Amherst officials acted rationally in recommending stop signs for the intersection, and he contends this was the case.

“We did everything we were supposed to do,” Chmiel said.

Wayne Felle, the attorney for Catherine Dunstan, who is suing on behalf of Dominic Dunstan, did not respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 28.

It’s possible Jake Dunstan also will bring a lawsuit in the matter. He still has time, based on his age, to do so, Chmiel said.

It’s impossible to say how frequently family members sue each other, but this often occurs when establishing fault in motor-vehicle crashes leading to injury where insurance policies will cover any damages, lawyers said.

Wildey has filed her own lawsuit, naming Rosati as the sedan’s owner and Catherine Dunstan as parent and guardian for Jake Dunstan, who had not yet turned 18. That lawsuit argues Wildey suffered “serious injury” in the crash.

Alice Trueman, the lawyer representing Rosati and Catherine Dunstan in Wildey’s suit, declined comment but, in her answer to the complaint, said Wildey’s own actions led to her injuries in the crash.



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