Deluxe Express Inc. of Plainfield, Illinois, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, citing soaring insurance rates after one of its drivers was involved in a fatal crash on Interstate 80 near Laramie, Wyoming, in March 2019.
The trucking company has 13 power units and lists 13 drivers, according to FMCSA records.
Deluxe Express and another motor carrier have been named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man killed in the deadly pileup involving three trucking companies.
In its filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Deluxe Express lists its assets and liabilities as being between $1 million and $10 million. It lists up to 49 creditors in its bankruptcy filing.
Igoris Geguzinskas, president of Deluxe Express, said skyrocketing insurance costs made it impossible for his small trucking company to continue in the wake of the March 9, 2019, pileup.
“Insurance got so high we couldn’t make it,” Geguzinskas told FreightWaves. “Yes, our driver was one of the trucks involved in the pileup, but the crash had already happened and our driver couldn’t stop.”
Geguzinskas said the Wyoming Highway Patrol’s investigation into the crash lasted for nearly eight months, but he said no charges were filed against his driver, Tadeusz Potkaj.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment.
Deluxe Express’ authority revoked
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revoked Deluxe Express’ operating authority in August 2019.
Prior to its shutdown, Deluxe Express trucks had been inspected 42 times and 12 trucks were placed out of service in a 24-month period, resulting in a nearly 39% out-of-service rate. This is higher than the industry’s national average of around 21%, according to FMCSA data.
Its drivers were inspected 114 times and 13 were placed out of service for an 11.4% out-of-service rate in the same two-year period. The national average out-of-service rate is around 5.5%. Deluxe’s trucks were involved in one fatal and one injury crash over the same 24-month period.
Fatal crash leads to wrongful death lawsuit
The widow of a man killed in the 2019 four-vehicle collision on I-80 east of Laramie filed a wrongful death lawsuit in February 2020 against Deluxe Express and its driver, Potkaj, 64, of Romeoville, Illinois.
Also named in the lawsuit was truck driver, Noslen O. Castillo, 38, of Florida, who drove for All America Carriers LLC of Miami Lakes, Florida. That carrier’s operating authority was revoked by the FMCSA in July 2019.
According to the WHP, three tractor-trailers and a 2018 Hyundai Kona were involved in the fatal pileup at around 9:23 a.m. on March 9.
The first Freightliner tractor-trailer driven by Talwinder Singh, 34, of Sacramento, California, who drove for Opportunity Truck Lines, was westbound on I-80 and was stopped in the roadway due to other traffic stopping ahead, according to the WHP report.
The Hyundai, driven by Brook N. Williams, 48, and his wife, Melanie Williams, 47, of Salt Lake City, was also stopped when a second Freightliner tractor-trailer, driven by Castillo, rear-ended the vehicle, pushing the Williams’ vehicle into the rear of Singh’s rig.
Shortly after the initial collision, a third Freightliner tractor-trailer, driven by Potkaj, struck the back of the rig driven by Castillo.
All of the drivers and passengers were wearing their seat belts at the time of the crash.
Brook Williams died at the crash scene, while Melanie Williams was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment.
None of the truck drivers were injured in the crash.
According to the WHP report, “road conditions were slick with black ice and blowing snow” and “there was little to no visibility at the time of the crash.”
Following the crash, state officials closed I-80 from Rawlins to Cheyenne for several hours because of weather conditions.
Wrongful death lawsuit
The suit alleges that both carriers and their drivers were negligent because Castillo and Potkaj were not properly trained on how to operate their tractor-trailers on public roadways under inclement winter driving conditions.
The lawsuit also claims that since both Castillo and Potkaj were company drivers, their carriers, All America and Deluxe Express, are vicariously liable for the drivers’ actions.
Court documents allege that All America driver Castillo violated federal hours-of-service regulations by falsifying his “record of duty status based on false logs made on March 5 and March 7.”
A status hearing is scheduled for Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. Williams’ widow is seeking a jury trial.
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