Connecticut lawmakers moved closer this week toward making it a felony for the owner of a commercial vehicle to knowingly operate it without insurance.
Responding to a fiery 20-vehicle crash in Avon that killed four people last July, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill creating the new Class D felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Last month, crash survivors learned the owner of the dump truck that caused the wreck did not have liability insurance for that vehicle. American Crushing and Recycling of Bloomfield suspended coverage in January and received a $40,000 premium rebate, according to the insurer and court documents.
The company has insisted, through an attorney, that its policy was in force at the time of the crash.
“While we can never fully erase the damage and pain, we must ensure that compensation is available to help people heal and move on with their lives,” said Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford.
The bill, which now goes to the House of Representatives for further action, would also require trucking company owners to file evidence of insurance with the state Department of Motor Vehicles at least every six months.
“It lets them know there will be serious consequences,” said Sen. Thomas Herlihy, R-Simsbury, referring to trucking company owners. “Those that are unwilling to follow the laws of ethics in the state of Connecticut will be heavily fined or will go to jail.”
The bill also authorizes the DMV commissioner to suspend the registration of each motor vehicle registered in the owner’s name if the owner does not make the necessary filings. Under current law, the commissioner can request evidence of insurance. If there is none, he can cancel the registration and confiscate the license plates.
Lawmakers said the bill is just a start. They said they plan to address the issue more in depth during the regular session, which begins in February.
There has been discussion of requiring insurance companies to notify DMV whenever insurance lapses for commercial vehicles. That’s required under current law for passenger vehicles.
However, insurance officials warned lawmakers during a recent hearing that the matter is more complicated than simply extending the existing law to commercial vehicles.
Insurers don’t cover a particular truck under fleet policies, but rather the commercial entity, Susan Giacalone, counsel for the Insurance Association of Connecticut, said at the hearing. That means a trucking company can pull the insurance for a particular vehicle without canceling its fleet’s liability coverage.
Also, many trucking companies operate under multiple names, and the company names reported by insurers would not necessarily match those on file at DMV. Insurers don’t keep track of vehicle identification numbers for the trucks they cover, she said.
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