Limousines are typically thought to be one of the safer forms of transportation available, with limo drivers making an average of 105 trips per week. The majority of those trips go off without a hitch, allowing passengers to arrive at their destination in style. Unfortunately, one limo company in Schoharie, New York did not deliver on their promises; their negligence resulted in a horrific fatal crash that has prompted arrests, lawsuits, and steps to amend existing legislation to ensure such a tragedy won’t happen again in New York State.
Although there are nearly 5.5 million car accidents on U.S. roads each year, this one has been a particularly difficult and confusing one. According to reports, there were numerous issues with the limo in question, as well as the operator, prior to the October accident that resulted in 20 deaths. A report from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles revealed that Global Liberty Insurance canceled coverage on the vehicle a staggering six times between January and September 2018. Each time, Prestige Limo was able to get the policy reinstated. The last time this was done was on October 5, just one day before the crash.
The reason for the repeated insurance policy cancelations has not been made clear, but what is known is that the vehicle had been listed for sale online for $9,000 in the days leading up to the accident. The Ford Excursion had also failed numerous inspections and was determined to not be road-worthy at the time of the crash. While 75% of cars are in need of maintenance or repairs, it’s very likely that the limo’s shoddy brakes and other issues may have played an important role in this totally preventable incident.
Almost immediately after the crash, investigators honed in on Prestige and the business practices of its owner and operator. Nauman Hussain, operator and son of owner Shahed Hussain, was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide. The responsibility of deceased driver Scott Lisinicchia was also called into question. Reports suggest that when he was ticketed for using a cell phone while driving in 2015, Lisinicchia didn’t pay the imposed fine; this action could have actually resulted in his license being revoked. And while 218 million people had driver’s licenses in the U.S. in 2015, Lisinicchia also failed to obtain the proper commercial driver’s license needed to operate the Ford Excursion involved in the crash.
All in all, the company’s negligence in hiring, maintaining, and operating is abundantly clear to law enforcement, legislators, and the families of the victims. As a result, action is being taken. One family has already filed a lawsuit against Prestige Limo and followed it up by filing a claim of notice against New York State. The claim alleges that the state should have taken the vehicle’s license plates so that it could not be driven on the roads at all after its failed inspections. In addition, the claim says the intersection in which the accident took place was known to be dangerous but that not enough was done to fix the problem.
Lawmakers are also taking steps to curb the unlawful use of certain cars. A bill was recently introduced in the state Senate that would effectively close a loophole that allows retrofitted limos to get around compliance requirements. Because the Ford Excursion was actually stretched after it was built, it was technically exempt from federal manufacturing safety procedures that could have made a difference in the deadly outcome. Another piece of legislation includes the proposal to remove stretch limos from the road after a decade, impose minimum liability insurance coverage of $2 million, display inspection results on New York State’s Department of Transportation website and much more prominently on the vehicle, and create brand new procedures that would mandate what occurs after a vehicle fails a safety inspection.
The outcome of the proposed legislation, filed lawsuits, and arrest is not yet known. But with any luck, the families of the victims and the entire community of Schoharie can heal and prevent such events from occurring in the future.