Insurance Claims from Penn. Turnpike Incident Exceed $1 Mil

Talk about a sticky situation.

Travelers Insurance has asked a federal court in Pennsylvania to appoint a “special master” to evaluate and settle the claims of hundreds of motorists whose vehicles were damaged after a tanker truck insured by the coverage provider spilled a gooey petroleum product all over the Pennsylvania Turnpike in November.

A lawyer representing Travelers confirmed this week that the insurer has deposited $1 million into a bank account supervised by the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, but said that amount may not be enough to pay off the nearly 1,000 claims for damages filed by motorists from 16 states and their private insurance companies.

The attorney, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing litigation, said the company that owns the truck that caused the incident–Maryland-based MTS Transport–is seeking payment from another insurer with whom it has a policy for up to $4 million in excess coverage.  He said the combined total should be enough to cover all the claims filed by Pennsylvania car insurance policyholders and insured parties from other states.

“I think everyone’s more than confident that $5 million would be more than enough to settle all the claims,” the Travelers attorney said in a phone interview.

A motion filed on behalf of Travelers identifies 995 individuals and their insurers as claimants in the case, which began on the evening of Nov. 22 on the turnpike near the Pennsylvania/Ohio border.

A truck owned by MTS Transport developed a leak and dumped asphalt flux—a viscous, tar-like material used for roofing and road paving—onto a 38-mile stretch of highway. The sticky substance coated tires and engines and caused the vehicles behind the truck “to be barely drivable or not drivable at all,” according to court documents.

Georgia residents Bill and Nicole Androutsopoulos have claimed that damages to their Acura TL would cost an estimated $1,186.82 to repair, and Dennis Porter, of Illinois, sought assistance from Travelers with $1,146 in damages to his Toyota Highlander, according to the motion filed by the coverage provider.

The court has yet to respond to Travelers’ request for a special master to handle distribution of settlements in the case. According to court documents, that official would be “given power to settle claims made by (claimants) on a good faith and reasonable basis, using the money paid into court to Travelers, until that money is exhausted.”

The Travelers motion asks the court to prohibit any further claims against the insurer or MTS Transport.

Among the claimants is the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which has told the coverage provider that it expects to be paid for cleanup costs.

According to the court filing, the value of the claims received by Travelers exceeds the $1 million liability coverage limit provided by the policy issued to MTS Transport.

A statement on the trucking company’s website said that its lawyers are working with Hallmark Insurance Co.—with whom MTS has the excess coverage policy—and is doing its best “to keep everyone updated regarding the Pennsylvania Turnpike incident and specifically how and where to submit claims.”

The Turnpike Commission announced the day after the incident that lanes had been cleared of asphalt flux and traffic was normal. Work crews reportedly used snow plows along with sand, salt and cinders to clean the sticky substance from the roadway.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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