SARATOGA SPRINGS — The latest in the many lawsuits stemming from the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people takes the most direct aim yet at Mavis Discount Tire, whose Saratoga Springs shop serviced the limousine’s brakes in the months before the deadly crash.
The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Albany on Wednesday details how the aging limousine’s brakes were allegedly faulty, and “Mavis knew or should have known that numerous additional repairs to the braking system were necessary to remedy its defects and render it safe to operate.”
The new case was brought by Thomas and Donna Rivenburg as co-administrators of the estate of Amanda R. Rivenburg of Colonie, one of the 17 young adults who were riding in the stretch limousine when it came down a long hill and crashed at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A on Oct. 6, 2018. She was 29 when she died, riding with friends to a birthday celebration.
The Rivenburg estate in December 2018 filed the first of what are now nearly two dozen civil lawsuits stemming from the crash. At that time, however, the role of the Saratoga Springs Mavis shop was not publicly known. Since then, it has emerged that the Mavis shop performed maintenance and an inspection on the vehicle on several occasions earlier in 2018, and a former Mavis manager has asserted the owner was billed for services not performed.
The previous Rivenburg lawsuit and other lawsuits have named as defendants Prestige Limousine of Wilton, company operator Nauman Hussain, and other parties. Several more recent lawsuits have also named Mavis.
All the limousine crash lawsuits have been consolidated before state Supreme Court Justice Thomas A. Breslin in Albany, who will also hear the new case, which was brought on behalf of the estate by Girvin & Ferlazzo of Albany.
The crash involved a 2001 Ford Excursion which had been stretched after manufacturing to increase its seating capacity from 10 people to up to 18. Other civil and criminal complaints have alleged that the Hussain family had registered the vehicle at a lower passenger capacity in an effort to avoid regulatory scrutiny from the state Department of Transportation.
The new lawsuit, however, lays more blame on Mavis for allegedly not doing proper repairs on the brakes on May 11, 2018, and says an employee’s explanation of the brake issues and repairs to Nauman Hussain “led Nauman Hussain to underestimate the severity of the defective and unsafe condition of the brakes at all times from May 11, 2018, through Oct. 6, 2018.”
According to the lawsuit, there were significant issues with the braking systems for all four wheels, including corrosion that may have caused loss of brake fluid, seized calipers on the rear brakes, and excess wear to pads and rotors on the front brakes.
“It was therefore foreseeable to Mavis’ agents, representatives, and/or employees that said dysfunctional, deficient, defective, and unsafe condition of the braking system would result in a crash,” the lawsuit asserts.
Nauman Hussain’s criminal defense is also expected to try to lay blame on Mavis, based on previous comments from one of his attorneys.
Hussain, 30, faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in connection with the deaths. Those charges remain pending in Schoharie County Court. A jury trial was previously scheduled to start in May, but the case has been thrown into limbo by the shutdown of most of the state court system in response to the spread of coronavirus, starting in March.
The criminal charges rely on an argument that Hussain was aware of the defective condition of the vehicle and should have been aware there was a foreseeable risk of a crash.
Mavis Discount Tire continues to deny it has any legal responsibility for the crash, as it has in past statements.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with the victims of this tragic accident,” the company said in a statement on Thursday. “However, Mavis bears no legal responsibility for this tragedy and the events that led up to it, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against all claims.”
The crash occurred when the limousine, carrying the 17 passengers from the Amsterdam area to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown, came down a long hill on Route 30 and ran at high speed through a stop sign at Route 30A, crashing in a small ravine next to the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Store and Cafe. All the passengers were killed, along with the driver and two pedestrians in the Apple Barrel parking lot.
In addition to the criminal investigation, the crash has prompted an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. State laws have been changed to close regulatory loopholes the crash revealed, and changes in federal law governing limousines are part of a transportation infrastructure bill now moving toward a vote in the House of Representatives.