Jury: Reading Anthracite owes trucking firm more than $2M
BY PETER E. BORTNER (STAFF WRITER PBORTNER@REPUBLICANHERALD.COM) /
PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 7, 2011
One of Pottsville’s largest businesses must pay more than $2 million in actual and punitive damages to a Northumberland County trucking company for breaching one contract and interfering with another, a Schuylkill County jury ruled Thursday.
Reading Anthracite Co. must pay $570,495.18 in actual damages, and $1.5 million in punitive damages to Empire Trucking Co. Inc., Shamokin, the jury of eight women and four men decided after deliberating less than two hours.
Additionally, the jury awarded Empire Trucking $69,758.33 from two affiliates of Reading Anthracite, Barakat Associates Ltd. and Waste Management & Processors, for a total monetary award of $2,140,253.51.
“We’re pleased with it,” Ernest D. Preate, Scranton, Empire Trucking’s lawyer and a former state attorney general, said after the verdict, which ended a four-day trial presided over by President Judge William E. Baldwin. “It was a tough case. I think they reached a fair verdict.”
Not surprisingly, Martin J. Cerullo, Pottsville, Reading Anthracite’s lawyer, judged the verdict differently.
“While we respect the jury trial process, we disagree with the result,” Cerullo said.
Cerullo also said Reading Anthracite does not believe it did anything wrong to Empire Trucking and it expects to file an appeal of the verdict.
Empire Trucking had filed the lawsuit in 2008, alleging that Reading Anthracite did not pay thousands of dollars in fuel surcharges, which are amounts the Shamokin company added to trucking bills in order to compensate for increasing gasoline costs.
Reading Anthracite did not pay surcharges on raw coal shipments in July and August 2008, Empire Trucking alleged.
In its defense, Reading Anthracite denied it had any obligation to pay surcharges on raw coal shipments and claimed that Empire Trucking had overcharged it.
However, the jury accepted Preate’s closing argument that there was a contract requiring Reading Anthracite to pay the surcharges. Preate stressed the fact that Reading Anthracite actually paid surcharges for a couple years before objecting to doing so.
“There was a meeting of the minds,” Preate said. “The fact that they were paid is evidence … of the following of this contract.”
One of Reading Anthracite’s executives actually agreed to the surcharges, Preate said.
“They don’t think it’s unfair,” Preate said of Reading Anthracite’s management. “They enriched themselves.”
Preate said Reading Anthracite intended to end paying the surcharges and to get Empire Trucking’s subcontractors to work directly for it.
However, that interfered with the contracts Empire Trucking had with those subcontractors, Preate said.
“It’s outrageous … willful, cunning,” and justified the award of punitive damages, he said.
Preate said the verdict was fair to Greg Lorenz Sr., Empire Trucking’s owner.
“My client suffered. He lost his trucking business, he lost his trucks, he lost his credit rating,” Preate said. “He’s been embarrassed. He lost friendships. All we asked for was a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”