The commercial auto insurer for the West Springfield trucking company involved in a Randolph, N.H., crash that killed seven people on motorcycles last June has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to divide its $1 million liability policy and relieve it of its obligation to defend the business against civil litigation.
In the lawsuit filed Friday in US District Court in Boston, Pilgrim Insurance Co. said it “is unable to determine the appropriate amounts to be paid” under the policy held by the trucking company, Westfield Transport, and wants a judge to divide the proceeds. The insurance company also wants to be released from its duty to defend Westfield Transport, which is facing lawsuits related to the June crash in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The civil proceeding being pursued by Pilgrim Insurance is used by insurance companies to resolve disputes, especially in cases where many people file claims.
“Pilgrim is required to provide a legal defense to its insured for lawsuits arising out of accidents during the policy term,” the suit said, citing state policy in Massachusetts. That policy, the suit said, “allows Pilgrim to relinquish its duty to defend if it tenders its full policy limits to this Court.”
The case describes 15 claims submitted to the insurer from the estates of the deceased victims, their relatives, and survivors of the June 21 collision that devastated members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, a group of former Marines who ride motorcycles and raise money for charities.
Killed were Albert “Woody” Mazza Jr., 59, Daniel Pereira, 58; Aaron Perry, 45, and his girlfriend, Desma Oakes, 42; a married couple, Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, who were 58; and Michael Ferazzi, 62.
Defendants named in the suit include the victims’ estates and eight other people who filed crash-related claims with Pilgrim Insurance. Also being sued are Westfield Transport, its president, Dartanyan Gasanov, 34, and Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, the truck driver accused of causing the crash. Zhukovskyy has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail in New Hampshire.
“In an effort to ensure that the victims of this tragic accident receive the benefit of any insurance coverage to which they are entitled under the Pilgrim Insurance policy as expeditiously as possible, Pilgrim is following a procedure under federal law by which it can pay its policy proceeds into the court and have the court distribute the funds appropriately,” a company spokesman said in a statement Saturday.
At least four other crash-related lawsuits have been filed against Westfield Transport, court records show, including complaints brought by Mazza’s daughter, Brittany; his longtime partner, Mary Lou Welch; crash survivor Joshua Morin, 45, and his wife, Joy ; and the Corrs’ daughter, who represents her parents’ estate.
In July, state Attorney General Maura Healey announced she was investigating Westfield Transport.
Speaking briefly to the Globe on Saturday evening, a Westfield Transport representative said he wasn’t aware of the Pilgrim Insurance lawsuit and expressed his sorrow over the tragedy.
Peter Kestner, a lawyer in Minnesota who handles litigation over truck crashes and previously worked in the insurance industry, said the legal bills Pilgrim Insurance would face defending Westfield Transport would probably exceed the $1 million policy.
“They are running away from this guy,” said Kestner, who reviewed the case at the Globe’s request but isn’t involved in any litigation related to the crash. “They are tendering the money to the court to extinguish their duty to defend despite the fact that there are lawsuits still out there.”
A federal law passed in 1980 requires at least $750,000 in liability insurance for trucking companies that do business across state lines and haul nonhazardous freight, Kestner said, though most operators working in that part of the industry have $1 million policies.
Pilgrim Insurance documents filed in the case provide a window into the finances of Westfield Transport, which ceased operating in early July.
The company didn’t own any of its trucks outright and owned just one of the seven semitrailers it used to haul vehicles to car dealerships, mostly on the East Coast. Its most recent insurance policy cost a premium of more than $82,000 for one year of coverage, court records show.
Two drivers were listed on the policy, Dartanyan Gasanov, and his brother, Dunyadar Gasanov, 35, a supervisor with Westfield Transport. Records obtained by the Globe, however, show six other people, including Zhukovskyy, were also driving Westfield Transport trucks while the policy was in effect.
The crash led to a scandal within the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles , which acknowledged it had failed to suspend Zhukovskyy’s commercial license before the collision when he refused a chemical breath test in East Windsor, Conn., on May 11 and was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The revelation exposed decades of failures at the Registry, which had been ignoring alerts from other states about Massachusetts drivers who broke their traffic laws.
Dartanyan Gasanov, who is a defendant in two lawsuits brought by victims’ relatives, has cited the Registry scandal in court papers, saying that before he hired Zhukovskyy, the agency said he held a valid Massachusetts driving license.
In Zhukovskyy’s response to one lawsuit, he blamed the crash on acts of God “which were not attributable in any degree to the conduct of the defendant and not reasonably preventable by human foresight, strength or care.”
Investigators, however, have said Zhukovskyy was distracted and high on an unspecified drug at the time of the crash.
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.