Two N.C. widows mourn lost husbands - and lack of insurance

mlocke@newsobserver.com April 1, 2012 

Linda Maynard felt good about her husband Richard’s new job when she went with him in 2006 to fill out the paperwork to start hauling loads for G&J Transport in Beaufort County.

“I thought this was a flourishing business, and the owners seemed like nice people,” said Maynard.

What Maynard didn’t know is that the company had decided to let its workers’ compensation insurance lapse years earlier to save money. And she didn’t know that a driver for the company died in 2004, leaving his widow in the lurch for the benefits she was due.

Then it happened to her. In February 2007, Richard Maynard was hit and killed by a driver when he was crossing a highway to get to his rig. Gregory and Joyce Nixon, owners of G&J Transport, knocked on Maynard’s door that morning to share the news and urge her to meet with their attorney to sign a settlement payment.

“It never in a million years occurred to me that a company this big wouldn’t have workers’ compensation,” Maynard said.

For more than three years, the Nixons went without workers’ compensation coverage, despite having dozens of employees driving 50 registered trailers all over the country.

According to minutes of the company’s board in October 2004, Gregory Nixon told his wife they would need to drop their coverage because it was too costly; Joyce Nixon reminded him that they were required by law to have the insurance. By the end of the month, though, the company let the policy expire.

Twelve days later, David Murray, one of their drivers, crashed his rig in Virginia and burned to death.

Murray’s widow, Gwen, signed a settlement agreement with the Nixons’ attorney, accepting payments a fraction of what she was owed by law. Seven months later, the $345 weekly checks stopped.

“They told me they were out of money,” Gwen Murray said in an interview.

Gregory Nixon, reached by phone last week, declined to comment.

The two women eventually hired attorneys and pushed their claims to the state Industrial Commission. There, during a hearing, they hugged and told each other how their husbands died on the road.

“I couldn’t believe they were allowed to go on without the insurance after my husband died,” Murray said.

Murray didn’t take her case to the commission until 2008. But when the Nixons canceled their policy, a notice was sent by the insurance company to the N.C. Rate Bureau. They provide an up-to-date account of terminated, renewed and new policies, but the commission doesn’t monitor those cancellations.

The attorneys for both widows discovered that the Nixons had been deeding property they owned to other family members to “diminish their apparent ability to pay,” a deputy commissioner determined in an order. Though the commission ordered the Nixons to pay the widows, the women’s attorneys had to file a civil lawsuit in state court to compel payment.

They sued the Nixons for fraudulently conveying property. Both women’s claims have been settled through that lawsuit. They declined to say how much they were awarded.

At the time of Murray’s death in 2004, G&J Transport was a sizable operation. It had registered as a limited liability corporation with the N.C. Secretary of State and had registered a fleet of 50 trailers with the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Kevin Bunn, Murray’s attorney, said the company brought in $6 million in revenue in 2004.

The commission levied fines against the Nixons, but staff declined to say whether it had collected any. No criminal charges have been brought, though it is a Class H felony for employers not to carry workers’ compensation.

The Nixons testified that they shut down G&J Transport in 2007. Late that year, they registered a new business, G&J Logistics, with the Secretary of State. The size of the operation is unclear, though an automated employee directory listed several employees, including Greg and Joyce Nixon.

In 2010, they purchased a workers’ compensation policy with Travelers Insurance. That policy expired in October, according to the N.C. Rate Bureau.

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