Massachusetts Company Provides HazMat Claims Management Service

April 1, 1999
Thomas Moses, president of Spill Center in Acton, Massachusetts, knows the problems that arise if companies have to confront a hazardous materials release.

Thomas Moses, president of Spill Center in Acton, Massachusetts, knows the problems that arise if companies have to confront a hazardous materials release. His expertise gained as a toxicologist with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and later as an attorney with an insurance company prepared him to establish an environmental claims management service in 1990.

"Our job is to put carriers and shippers in a better position to deal with the regulatory maze after an environmental release, and help drivers make the right moves to protect themselves and their companies," he says.

Moses notes that 88% of all spills processed by the Spill Center involve diesel fuel from broken crossover lines and ruptured saddle tanks. The average cleanup cost is $9,200 nationwide. Spill Center receives more than 6,000 emergency calls per year. A database contains more than 3,000 private spill cleanup contractors used with clients that range from small fleets to large carriers, as well as various chemical shippers. Spill Center serves about 300 clients.

Many companies don't realize the importance of properly reporting spill incidents, he points out. Some may try to hide it, think police at the scene will report it, or just don't know the federal, state, and local regulations. Reporting responsibility and liability remain with the spill generator, regardless of who was at fault.

"The liability is important to understand," he adds. "Who the company is, not what it did, determines the liability. When a carrier really understands how it works, the public and environment are protected, and the carrier saves money and protects its reputation. If the liability issue is mastered, lawsuits can be avoided."

A proprietary environmental claims reporting, tracking, and documentation system is at the heart of the claims management service. "We think this levels the playing field for the spill generator who must deal with regulatory authorities, cleanup contractors, and claimants," Moses says.

With all of that in mind, when a spill occurs and Spill Center is notified, the client's pre-filed spill contingency plan supplies the information needed to carry out the response. "You get data, you get answers," he adds.

Because a plan has been prepared in advance, Moses' employees can respond almost instantaneously by alerting hazardous materials emergency crews and filing reports to appropriate agencies.

"If the driver is not injured, he or she can make a call to the company's dispatch office or to the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (Chemtrec) center," Moses says. Spill Center has an agreement with the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), of which Chemtrec is an arm, to provide contractor referrals and assistance with hazardous materials releases.

"I started the company in the belief that no single organization or company should ever have enough spills to justify creating and maintaining all the spill resources needed for adequate protection that is required today. I set up the company to provide support and claims management expertise for transporters."

Moses recognizes that the transportation industry is subject to a maze of environmental regulations, many of which carry large fines if they are violated. In addition, inflated fees for spill cleanup, unwarranted claims for damage to the environment, and unreasonable demands from government regulators are commonly associated with spills, he says.

Besides providing services for individual clients, he conducts workshops for emergency planning personnel so that they can determine fair billing related to spill cleanup charges.

"There is a growing concern in the transportation industry over local ordinances that authorize reimbursement to emergency response agencies," he says. "The ordinances are becoming overly broad and unfair, and have few limits on the type of costs that can be charged."

Moses emphasizes the importance of immediately contacting governmental authorities and property owners, controlling and measuring the spill, and documenting the amount of product released. Carriers that use satellite tracking devices on the vehicles can demonstrate real-time data, he points out.

"These are proven methods designed to place the company that generated the spill in a legally defensible position," says Moses.

Moses' experience as an EPA toxicologist also gives him an edge in recognizing possible damage to the environment caused by spills. He understands how chemicals react in the environment and their long-term effects, he says. This awareness enables him to prepare plans for dealing with the media in the event of a serious spill and subsequently allay public overreaction.

Moses employs paralegal administrators to activate the client's contingency plan. "Paralegals are trained with an eye toward detail and to understand laws and regulations," he says. "They understand the importance of following exact instructions."

The employees know responder specialties, constantly update data, and work with companies to maintain communication so that they are familiar with the appropriate employees should a spill occur. To stay current with industry requirements, they attend seminars for continuing education.

Paralegals oversee contingency plans that have been customized to fit the needs of the carrier. "We customize every contingency program because each company is different, based on its activity," Moses says. "Some may be over-the-road, others local deliveries, or both. Some companies own vehicles while others lease them. Some use owner-operators versus employee drivers. And, there are the many different products that they transport."

In the initial planning stage, William Cummings, a paralegal and corporate development director, submits a questionnaire to the client that produces a company profile, detailing products, vehicles, location, personnel, and other pertinent company information. The contingency plan then is developed.

"We provide a custom plan, detailing the steps to take in response to spills and ways to limit the transporter's liability in the event of a spill." says Moses. Spill Center services include providing contractor referrals, regulatory reporting, and invoice auditing. The company furnishes seven-day, 24-hour support.

Clients include private fleets, for-hire carriers, truck leasing companies, chemical manufacturers, and insurance firms.

"Some of the companies will already have a plan, others won't," Cummings says. "We try to keep the program simple, to customize, provide a nuts and bolts activity."

Moses predicts his company will expand globally as international documentation requirements rise. "We will be working with any company that can be a spill generator," he says. "We are looking for situations where we can be partners with international companies."