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$1M cap sought in Pennsylvania Turnpike leak

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

Like most fathers, Tony Albrecht was more concerned about how his daughter Anna was doing than with the condition of her car when he learned she was among the hundreds of motorists driving behind a tanker truck leaking asphalt on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

"She was traveling home from Oberlin (College) in Ohio and was a little freaked by the whole incident, but everything ended up being OK," said Albrecht of Squirrel Hill. "I'm not expecting much as far as a settlement is concerned, but I think it's only fair that we get back what we've paid out."

The Albrechts' 1998 Subaru Legacy suffered about $1,000 in damage on Nov. 22 when more than 4,000 gallons of roofing asphalt leaked from a tanker and coated a 40-mile stretch of the toll highway between the New Castle and Harmarville exits.

While the ultimate cost for the spill still is being tallied, Travelers Indemnity Co. has filed a federal lawsuit contending that its liability for the spill should be limited to $1 million. The insurer provides coverage to the trucking company, Marino Transport Services of Stevensville, Md., under a commercial automobile policy, according to the lawsuit.

Travelers maintains in the lawsuit that it has received more than 900 claims from the incident.

Since the claims likely will exceed the $1 million provided by the policy, the insurer wants to put that amount into a court-administered fund and let a federal judge decide who receives compensation.

John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, said the $1 million policy the trucking company carried "is pretty typical."

Most carriers have $750,000 in liability for regular trucks, $1 million for trucks hauling petroleum products, and $5 million for trucks carrying hazardous chemicals, he said.

Rhonda Wasserman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said if the courts give the OK, payment likely will be pro-rated so that everybody gets at least a portion of their claim paid.

However, once the fund is depleted, the trucking company and the driver could be "on the hook" for additional damage claims.

Wasserman said trying to collect damages from the Turnpike Commission likely would be difficult "unless you can show that the turnpike was somehow responsible for causing the spill."

Agency spokesman Carl DeFebo said the commission not only is not responsible, it is "looking to recover our costs associated with the spill."

Like the Albrechts, Joni Basescu is not overly concerned about the $600 in damage her son Ryan's 2003 Volvo suffered while driving home from Gannon University in Erie.

"He loves that car," said Basescu of Uniontown. "And he was able to scrape most of the stuff off with one of those reflectors on the guiderails. But it would be nice if we were reimbursed the cost of cleaning it up and for the new tires we had to buy."

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