Glaring lapses in public safety were revealed by a horrific New York limo crash last week. The New York governor said that the vehicle and its driver were not legally allowed to even be on the road. As a result, 20 people lost their lives. The crash marks the deadliest transportation collision in our country since 2009. We must take stronger action to prevent disasters like this from happening in the future.
How the New York Limo Crash Happened
Like all disasters, it could have and should have been avoided.
A SUV wrongfully modified into a stretch limousine was carrying 17 birthday party guests through a small town in upstate New York. The group included newlyweds who had just gotten married and the bride’s three sisters. They were on their way to a brewery and didn’t want to run the risk of driving home while intoxicated.
But the celebration came to a devastating end when the limo ran a stop sign and crashed into a parked car. The driver was speeding down a steep hill and there were no skid marks indicating that he ever applied his brakes. However the investigation must not end there.
State and federal officials must get to the bottom of this debacle. They must determine how
- a vehicle that was not legally allowed to be on the road,
- driven by someone without the required license,
- in a vehicle guaranteed to injure or kill its occupants in the event of a crash, and
- owned by a company that was not complying with federal and state law
was even allowed to be driving that day.
It is shocking that the vehicle had failed its inspection test just the month before, had failed brake tests in March, and did not have the required certification. As Governor Cuomo said, “The owners of the company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the roadway.”
Who is liable?
The limo was registered to a tiny company called Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service in a nearby town. The company had only two drivers and three vehicles. Following the crash, the limo company claimed that they would begin an independent investigation into the accident. It also took its other two limos off the road, although one was already disabled. But it should have done sooner. If the company had followed federal and state laws, the limo wouldn’t have been in use that horrific day.
The loss of all passengers and the driver will thwart an investigation into what caused the crash. The National Highway Safety Board and state police have been combing the scene and interviewing witnesses and will issue a report soon. But it will be too little, too late.
Officials had a lot of questions following the wreck. Number one, of course, is who caused it. For now, no one knows if the wreck was caused by one or more of the following causes: driver error, the mechanical condition of the limo or its structural integrity, the design of the intersection, or the non use of seat belts. All of these were avoidable.
1. The driver
It is hard to understand why he did not stop at the stop sign and was driving at an excessive speed. These cause thousands of crashes in the United States each day, but you would think that a commercial driver transporting a large group of people would follow basic transportation laws.
The driver had a history of drug arrests. Investigators are looking into the possibility of whether the driver was driving while intoxicated or driving while fatigued. No doubt he was guilty of distracted driving. These are three leading causes of the epidemic of automobile and truck crashes on our roads and highways.
2. The vehicle
It was not the usual one manufactured in a factory. Instead, it was an old 2001 Ford Excursion that had been chopped up and retrofitted into a limousine, a so-called “Frankenstein.” According to officials, converting vehicles like this makes them flimsy and more prone to injuring its passengers. Furthermore, the state’s Department of Transportation had inspected the vehicle one month earlier and it failed the inspection.
Records show that the limo company had its vehicles inspected five times within the last two years — and four were taken out of service. That’s shocking.
Texts sent by one of the passengers showed that at least one person had concerns about the condition of the limo. She told a friend that the party bus originally scheduled to pick them up had broken down on the way to pick up the passengers.
The group had to take this old one instead which the passenger said was in poor condition. She further commented that the motor was so loud it was making everyone deaf.
3. The company
Limousine operators must have a CDL driver’s license with a passenger endorsement. The driver didn’t have one.
The owner of the company, Shahed Hussain, is currently in Pakistan. The prior FBI informant travels to Pakistan often. He claims he will return whenever officials need him. Yet he has still not returned to the U.S. for questioning and cannot be extradited.
His son, Nauman Hussain, ran the family’s company during his father’s absences.
The New York Department of Transportation reports that the same limo company and vehicle involved in the crash have been under scrutiny before. Police officers have seized three of the limo company’s vehicles in addition to the one that crashed.
Although officials don’t yet have answers to whether human or mechanical causes contributed to the crash, they made an arrest just five days later. Police have charged the owner’s son with criminally negligent homicide.Nauman Hussain plead not guilty and left the jail after posting his bail on Wednesday night. Officials also made him turn over his passport to ensure he wouldn’t flee. He was stopped on the road with his suitcases packed.
The driver’s family claimed that he had a chauffeur’s license. But he was driving the same limo previously when a state trooper issued violations. According to records, the law enforcement officer told him he couldn’t operate the limo without getting the proper license.
Furthermore, the driver’s family said that he had expressed his concerns over the condition of the vehicles in the past. In spite of all the violations and warnings, the son made the decision to put the same driver and limo back on the road again just to earn some cash.
Preventing Deadly Limousine Crashes in North Texas
People in cities all over the country use limousine services as transportation to special events. Parents should do a thorough job researching the companies they hire for their high school kids who are going to their proms. After the impact of the New York deadly limo crash, people from all over are wondering what their state does to keep them safe.
There has not been a year since 2000 when someone was not killed while riding in a limousine. The lives of 68 people have been taken in these crashes before the New York one.
New York has specific laws that pertain to the condition of vehicles and the requirements of limo drivers. Making laws that ensure drivers are qualified and vehicles are safe is the first step. Enforcing them offers a greater challenge. Operating requirements differ among localities. Insurance companies also place specific requirements on limo drivers before they offer insurance coverage.
In Texas, laws regarding limos are lax and only on par with those regulating taxis. Limo drivers in Texas are only required to have a commercial driver’s license if they drive super-stretch limos that carry sixteen or more passengers. But some limo companies require all their drivers to retain a CDL and some also do background checks for drivers and perform random drug tests.
Limo passengers aren’t required to wear seat belts in New York. In Texas, it is the driver’s responsibility to tell passengers to buckle up. If passengers refuse to comply with the ‘no standing’ rule, the driver has the option to bring the ride to an end. Failing to enforce these laws results in his being responsible for a passenger’s injuries. It is safe to say that if alcohol is being served, the chances of people buckling up and slim and none, especially if young people are involved.
When limos have the capacity for more than nine occupants, including the driver, and cross state lines, federal regulations kick in. These include requiring $2.5 million in public liability insurance, maintaining records with the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and carrier ID. Taking passengers across state lines requires logged hours and strict implementation of other federal guidelines.
When a Civil Car or Truck Wreck Becomes a Crime
Crashes happen on our roads and highways every day. In every case, someone is responsible for the wreck and any resulting injuries. Speeding, driving under the influence, and distracted driving are just some of the ways people cause wrecks. These cases often end up with the injured party filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. The injured party has the right to pursue compensation to pay for their medical care, property damage, time off from work, and pain and suffering. Personal injury cases are civil law cases. The arrest of Nauman Hussain for criminally negligent homicide is a prime example of how vehicle wrecks can become criminal cases.
Sometimes crashes are so severe that they result in serious injuries that lead to death. When the person causes the crash through his reckless behavior, it can result in a criminal case. According to Texas Penal Code § 19.04, a person who recklessly causes the death of another person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter. If he causes the death of another by operating a vehicle with criminal negligence, as in the case of the New York deadly limo crash, Texas Penal Code § 19.05 states that he can be charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Vehicular manslaughter is generally tried as a second-degree felony in Texas. Penalties range from two to twenty years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000. Sometimes a personal injury case coincides with a criminal one as two distinctly different types of cases. The personal injury case takes place in civil court where evidence is presented to prove fault and to prove the injuries in the claim are legitimate. The goal of a civil case is to compensate the victim for their losses.
Criminal cases and criminal court are different. The state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If the court finds the defendant guilty, he faces prison time, fines, or both. These cases take place in a different courtroom, with different lawyers, and with very different potential outcomes. Both types of cases coexist, often with the criminal case resolving sooner than the personal injury case.
The arrest of Hussain has already determined that he will end up in criminal court. Although none of the victim’s families have initiated wrongful death lawsuits, the criminal case won’t prevent them from taking action. Even if he isn’t convicted for allowing the unsafe limo and driver on the road, anyone pursuing a personal injury case due to the loss of their loved one has a good chance of winning.
What will happen next?
Reading about this tragedy angered me. As a personal injury lawyer for almost 40 years, it galls me that crashes like this are allowed to happen and then are swept under the rug until the next one occurs. I devote my practice to helping the victims of car and truck collisions get their medical bills and lost wages paid and just compensation for their injuries and damages. But there is no reason why they should have to go through their ordeals in the first place.
The 17 passengers traveling in the limo that day were doing what young drivers often fail to do. They made plans to have a responsible, sober driver behind the wheel when they planned on drinking alcohol. If the original party bus they ordered hadn’t broken down, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened.
Most of us assume that when we hire a company, it follows the rules and provide us with a safe ride. In this case, the very steps the group took to keep them safe were the cause of their deaths. Now, many friends and families have to continue their lives without their loved ones.
Lawsuits for the wrongful deaths will be filed, depositions will be taken, and a verdict will be rendered by a jury if the cases do not settle outside of the courtroom.
My guess is that the company has the minimum insurance policy — if any. This obviously won’t begin to pay the horrific damages to the surviving families of the deceased. Presumably the company’s and individual owner’s assets are negligible, so this policy may be the only available source of recovery.
Hopefully, at the very least, changes will be made to the limousine and transportation industries. Companies will hire better drivers, train and supervise them better, purchase and maintain safer vehicles, and buy higher amounts of liability insurance. And while I’m hoping, maybe our state and federal transportation officials will do a better job keeping unsafe vehicles like this off the roads and enforce traffic laws. Perhaps our state legislatures and the U.S. Congress will raise the required insurance limits for limos seating so many people to a minimum of one million dollars.
After investigating the limousine industry, a report criticized the lack of enforcement and uniformity of laws. The head of the National Safety Council compared the situation to “Frankenstein laws for Frankenstein vehicles.” She also observed that “if nothing changes, there is bound to be another tragedy.”
We at Berenson Injury Law donated to the GoFundMe account for the victims and offer our sincerest condolences to the families of the victims. We and hope and pray that our governmental officials can prevent another tragedy like this from happening.