‘Follow the money’ adage applies to minimum insurance bill

September 20, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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Any good journalist has heard the phrase, “Follow the money.”

It’s a piece of good advice that entered the popular culture with the 1976 film “All the President’s Men” about a pair of Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal.

Decades later, the adage still applies.

In July, Reps. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., introduced the INSURANCE Act, or HR3781, which would increase the federal minimum insurance requirement for motor carriers from $750,000 to nearly $5 million. The bill would also require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to adjust the mandated amount every five years to take into account inflation costs related to medical care.

Maybe this alone doesn’t prompt any red flags, but you have to be curious when you realize that some studies indicate that the current minimum insurance level adequately covers damages in all but 0.06% of crashes.

If that’s the case, what led to the bill? Who would benefit?

Well, you don’t have to be Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward to reach the conclusion that your ambulance-chasing lawyers would love to see this bill pass.

A 31-group coalition led by OOIDA against HR3781 and three other expensive mandates, said the bill is “primarily an opportunity for trial lawyers to receive greater payouts at the expense of U.S. businesses.”

However, there’s even more to the story.

You see, this isn’t the first time Rep. Cartwright has introduced legislation to increase minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers.

In 2013, just months after Cartwright took office, he introduced a bill to raise the minimum liability insurance requirements to $4.2 million.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright
Rep. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa.

The October 2013 issue of Land Line Magazine includes an article from Managing Editor Jami Jones that gives some insight into Cartwright’s background.

Jones’ article cites Cartwright’s bio on Justice.org at the time.

“Matthew A. Cartwright concentrates his practice in interstate trucking, professional negligence, and business litigation. … As a lawyer representing plaintiffs, Mr. Cartwright has more reported cases than any other practicing lawyer in northeastern Pennsylvania. Mr. Cartwright is a partner at Munley, Munley & Cartwright, P.C. in Plains, Pennsylvania, and is married to, and practices with, Marion Munley.”

Jones also captured screenshots and videos from the law firm’s website that provided examples of the lawyers painting the trucking industry and truck drivers as dangerous.

“Owner-Operators who cannot afford to perform maintenance of their trucks have a defective vehicle on the highway, and they are a singular cause of death and mayhem,” said Robert Munley, Munley Law’s founder and Rep. Cartwright’s father-in-law.

“One of the largest parts of our practice is representing victims of tractor-trailer accidents,” said Marion Munley, Rep. Cartwright’s wife and a member of the Munley Law Firm. “Every year, there is a rise in the number of cases, the number of deaths on our highways caused by tractor-trailer drivers.”

There also was a video on the site capturing these words from Cartwright:

“I would urge that before you leave our site, have a look at the page that lists our record of success. You’re going to see verdicts on there that range from the mid-five figures, to the six figures, to the seven figures, and, yes, even the eight figures.”

The 2013 bill did not pass, but with the introduction of a similar bill this summer, Cartwright’s connection to the law firm is making news again.

Earlier this week, the Washington Examiner published an article with the headline, “Democratic congressman introduced truck crash legislation benefitting his family law firm.”

“Rep. Matt Cartwright has spent years sponsoring truck insurance legislation that would directly benefit his family’s law firm, in which he owns a multimillion dollar stake, according to financial and lobbying records reviewed by the Washington Examiner,” the article stated.

OOIDA says the legislation is unnecessary and could put a lot of owner-operators out of business. The Association also said Cartwright shouldn’t be associated with any such bill.

“From our perspective, it’s blatantly obvious the motives behind the legislation are to economically improve the bottom line for attorneys that specialize in suing truckers,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer told the Examiner. “Should there be any integrity in our system at all, (Cartwright) should be recusing himself from involvement.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.