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  • Bangor Daily News

    A CMP driver’s crash spotlighted a century-old legal standard favoring the company

    By Billy Kobin,

    2024-06-17
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0RpS0k_0ttXVv0e00

    AUGUSTA, Maine — Police say a Central Maine Power truck driver caused a crash this month by failing to yield. The ensuing dispute between the utility and a motorsports dealership has highlighted a nearly century-old legal standard favoring the company.

    CMP has been the only company to use a 1927 statute giving certain Maine companies the option to self-insure their vehicles, meaning they don’t have to carry policies for routine claims and can instead settle them in house. Lawmakers considered ending that option in 2021, but an amendment to a bill signed by Gov. Janet Mills kept it for utilities.

    The regime is frustrating a former state lawmaker whose company’s flatbed truck was totaled the afternoon of June 3, when a CMP truck driver failed to yield the right of way and caused a crash at an intersection on Leighton Road in Augusta, according to a police report.

    Wilson’s Recreation , a North Monmouth motorsports dealership owned by former Rep. Corey Wilson, who represented Augusta as a Republican from 2012 to 2014, and CMP have since bickered over settling the claim.

    CMP says it has followed a standard practice of requesting data from the company’s truck, while Wilson argued his company is not required to provide that information and claimed the utility is trying to force his company to give up private data. But a broader aspect of the case is the self-insurance law, with Wilson calling on lawmakers to no longer give the utility that option.

    The crash injured both his father, Jeffery Wilson, who was driving the Wilson’s Recreation truck, and the CMP driver, who told police he did not see the other truck as he turned left from Anthony Avenue due to a parked tractor-trailer facing north in the breakdown lane on Leighton Road.

    CMP, whose parent company Avangrid is owned by Spanish utility firm Iberdrola, posts a bond annually to meet insurance requirements and receives roughly two dozen auto-related claims each year that are “amicably resolved,” spokesperson Jon Breed said.

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4BfuUv_0ttXVv0e00
    Jeffery Wilson, who was driving a truck that was hit by a Central Maine Power Co. driver earlier this month, is pictured outside Wilson’s Recreation in North Monmouth. He was driving for the business run by his son, former state Rep. Corey Wilson. Credit: Michael Shepherd / BDN

    It is “very common” for utilities to be self-insured because of their abnormally large fleets, Breed added. He said the regime substantially lowers insurance premiums and in turn reduces costs for ratepayers. The utility carries supplemental insurance policies for larger claims over self-insurance limits.

    Wilson complained that it was difficult at first to find out how to file a claim with CMP, which is overseen by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Federal law prohibits states from insurance departments from regulating all self-insured plans, said Maine Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Bob Carey. Wilson reached out to the bureau, which advised him to contact CMP and consult an attorney.

    The self-insurance option is instead overseen by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles within Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office. CMP has to give the state financial statement to prove its ability to self-insure, but the bureau does not have an additional enforcement or advocacy role, Bellows said.

    Bellows drove the 2021 measure that looked to take the option away from CMP, arguing that her office was not equipped to make the financial determinations. Last year, Republican lawmakers put forward a bill that would have given all companies with sufficient means the option to self-insure, but it was shot down in the Legislature.

    Self-insurance for CMP has many defenders in Augusta. They include Public Advocate Bill Harwood, the ratepayer watchdog who said his office was sorry to hear about Wilson’s frustration but comfortable with the arrangement.

    “Large corporations with deep pockets typically self-insure against most smaller claims, and I suspect that Corey recognizes that sometimes insurers can be just as difficult as self-insured companies in resolving disputed claims,” he said.

    The Legislature is gone for the year. Bellows said a working group is discussing a years-long effort to no longer require Mennonites to purchase car insurance out of respect for the religious group’s beliefs in relying on the church rather than private companies. Wilson would like the broader rules changed, but Bellows declined to share a stance until a new bill comes out.

    “We evaluate every legislative proposal based on its contents and generally share our official positions when legislation is brought forward,” Bellows said.

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