Deadly Trucking Crash Leads to Calls for Tighter Insurance Rules in Conn.

By | September 25, 2005

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has called on the Motor Vehicles Department to demand proof of insurance from all trucking companies in Connecticut.

The request came after survivors of a fiery, 20-vehicle crash that killed four people in Avon on July 29 were told by Maine-based Acadia Insurance that the owner of the dump truck that caused the wreck did not have liability insurance. American Crushing and Recycling of Bloomfield suspended the coverage in January and received a $40,000 premium rebate, according to court records.

“The plain stark fact is uninsured trucks are more likely to have safety problems,” Blumenthal said.

A lawyer for American Crushing and Recycling insisted last Friday that the company had liability coverage at the time of the crash.

The Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday did order trucking companies with the worst safety records to provide proof of insurance. The order applied to the top 25 in-state companies and the top 25 interstate firms with histories of safety issues.

Blumenthal also said the DMV does not need the legislature to immediately close a loophole in state law that allowed American Crushing and Recycling to drop its insurance without first notifying state officials. He called on DMV Commissioner Ralph Carpenter to adopt an emergency regulation to close the loophole.

But the attorney general said it was questionable whether Carpenter has the power to order insurance companies to notify the DMV if coverage for commercial vehicles lapses. He said that would require legislative action.

To the surprise of many state politicians and trucking advocates, state law only requires insurers to notify the DMV of lapsed or suspended coverage for passenger vehicles.

William Seymour, a DMV spokesman, said the agency is looking at various options, including statutory changes that might be necessary to close the loophole.

Also Friday, Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano confirmed that he has launched a criminal investigation into American Crushing and Recycling after learning about the lapsed insurance coverage.

A 2000 Mack dump truck owned by American Crushing barreled out of control down Avon Mountain on Route 44 and smashed into 19 other vehicles including a commuter bus that were waiting at a traffic signal at the bottom of the hill.

Four people, including the driver of the truck, were killed. Four others were seriously injured. Police believe mechanical failure and possibly driver error caused the crash, which remains under investigation. The truck had a history of safety violations.

According to Acadia, American Crushing and Recycling, through another insurance company, asked for its liability coverage to be reinstated retroactively to July 1 just two hours after the crash. Acadia said the Avon accident was not mentioned.

Hubert Santos, an attorney for American Crushing and Recycling, disputed the allegations on Friday. He said the company’s insurance carrier actually issued several certificates during the spring and summer showing that the trucking company had liability insurance on all trucks.

“The allegations of the lawsuit are not accurate since the truck involved in the accident had continuous liability coverage at all times, including on July 29, 2005,” Santos said.

Acadia has asked a federal judge to issue a court order stating it is not obligated to cover American Crushing’s old $1 million liability policy or its $2 million umbrella policy.

Meanwhile, the family of Paul “Chip” Stotler, 42, of New Hartford, who died in the wreck, filed the first lawsuit connected to the crash against American Crushing and Recycling, claiming wrongful death. The lawsuit, filed in Hartford Superior Court, also names the state, saying Route 44 on Avon Mountain is poorly designed.

“There are very clear safety rules about how you design roads like the Avon Mountain road,” said Michael Stratton, a lawyer for the Stotler family. “They violated all of those safety standards. They knew about runaway trucks. They did nothing to create alternate routes, to create a … runaway truck ramp, absolutely nothing to prepare for what was inevitable.”

Stotler was the father of five daughters.

Michael J. Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his group supports state officials’ plans to require that the DMV be notified of lapsed insurance coverage for commercial vehicles.

“It’s nothing that we went to the legislature and asked for. We want people to be insured, and we don’t want to make it easy for them to be uninsured,” he said.

Connecticut did not require cars to be insured until the 1980s. In 1993, a law was passed that required insurance firms to contact the DMV if an owner’s coverage lapsed. But at that time, trucks still were not required to have insurance, Riley said he has learned from legislative staff.

Trucks were required to carry insurance in 1994, but the law was never changed to require the insurers to contact DMV of any lapses.

“It’s like an unintended consequence,” Riley said.

Riley said federal law requires insurance companies for Connecticut trucks that cross state lines, known as interstate carriers, to notify the state DMV if a policy lapses.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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