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Attorneys File Suits Against Limo Operators, State

Attorneys for the families of seven crash victims speak in Fonda
Lucas Willard
Attorneys for the families of seven crash victims speak in Fonda

Lawyers representing the families of several of the victims of last year’s deadly limousine crash in Schoharie have filed lawsuits against the operators of the vehicle involved, a repair shop, and the State of New York.

The October 2018 crash in Schoharie killed 20 people, including all 18 aboard the vehicle owned by Saratoga Springs-based Prestige Limousine, and two bystanders.

The operator of the limousine company, Nauman Hussain, is the son of the company’s owner, Shahed Hussain. He faces 20 each counts of vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.  Shahed Hussain remains out of the country in his native Pakistan.

On Thursday, new civil suits were filed on behalf of the families of seven of the victims.

Attorney Cynthia LaFave was joined by a team of lawyers working together on the case outside the Montgomery County clerk’s office.

“There are children, small children who lost parents – some of them, both of their parents – and all of the economic support that those parents would have given. So yes, it does seek economic relief. And that will not bring back the people who are lost, but it is the only measure of justice that people in American can get,” said LaFave.

One claim filed in New York State Supreme Court names Shahed Hussain, Nauman Hussain, Prestige Limousine, and their aliases. Another filed with the New York State Court of Claims names the State of New York and the state Department of Transportation.

Attorney Thomas Mortati…

“Make no mistake about it, the plaintiffs’ attorneys and this action, we believe that this crash was entirely preventable,” said Mortati.

The case against the Hussain family and Mavis alleges that the defendants knowingly operated an unsafe vehicle. The case against the state primarily has to do with inspections performed on the vehicle.

“We intend to prove that Mavis fraudulently represented and assisted the limousine’s owners and fraudulently represented to the public that this limousine was safe when they knew that it was not,” said LaFave.

Here’s a partial timeline of what allegedly happened leading up to the crash:

The plaintiffs say that the 18-passenger vehicle was knowingly and fraudulently registered as an 11-passenger vehicle by its owners, and that a March 2018 inspection performed by the state transportation department deemed the vehicle unfit to be on the road. An “out of service” sticker was placed on the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo. There were issues reported with the braking system.

In May 2018, the limo was taken to Mavis Discount Tire on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs, where an inspection was performed, though the attorneys allege that the defendants should have known the vehicle was not eligible for inspections not performed by the DOT. A DMV inspection sticker was issued by Mavis anyway.

In September 2018, another state DOT inspection was performed, finding that defects identified were not remedied, and another “out of service” sticker was issued.

The crash on October 6th, 2018 occurred after the limousine came down a steep hill, traveled through an intersection, hitting an unoccupied vehicle in an adjacent parking lot, and came to rest in a ravine.

Moreover, the driver of the limousine in the October crash was not properly licensed to operate the vehicle.

The State Department of Transportation did not comment on the lawsuit. A message left at the Mavis corporate office was not returned.

Attorneys believed to represent the Hussain family and Prestige Limousine in the civil case did not return a request for comment. Attorney Lee Kindlon, who is representing Nauman Hussain in the criminal case, told WAMC he is not involved in the civil case and could not provide comment.

On the anniversary of the crash, officials including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer announced a package of federal legislation on limousine safety. The New York State legislature adopted some reforms as part of the state budget, but not all safety provisions sought by the legislature were taken up before the end of session in June.

Again, Cynthia LaFave…

“Some changes have already come out. And we would like to see more changes that happen with regard to the laws about operating vehicles that are going to be transporting people, and how they are inspected and how they are taken care of when they are on the road,” said LaFave.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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