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Schoharie limo crash victim's estate serves operator in civil lawsuit

Schoharie limo crash victim's estate serves operator in civil lawsuit

Limo company operator faces both criminal and civil cases
Schoharie limo crash victim's estate serves operator in civil lawsuit
Nauman Hussain and his attorney Lee Kindlon are pictured in October in Cobleskill.
Photographer: New York Times

SCHOHARIE -- The law firm for one of the people killed in the deadly Oct. 6 stretch limousine crash in Schoharie served a civil lawsuit on limousine company operator Nauman Hussain Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed in November in Albany on behalf of the estate of 29-year-old Colonie resident Amanda Rivenburg, who died in the crash. It is the first lawsuit filed related to the crash, which killed 20 people.

Though the suit was filed earlier, Hussain was not served with the legal document until after a court hearing that he attended on Tuesday in Schoharie.

Sal Ferlazzo, the Albany attorney representing Rivenberg's family, said serving Hussain with the papers started a filing schedule that requires Hussain or his attorney to respond within 30 days, and that will then lead to an information discovery process that will include a detailed history of the limousine, its maintenance, the histories of Prestige Limo and the Hussain family.

The delay between the filing of the lawsuit and when it was served was long, Ferlazzo acknowledged.

"We've been trying to get cooperation to get him served, and we did not get cooperation, so we had to find him," Ferlazzo said. "We learned he would be in court today, so we took that opportunity."

Rivenberg's estate is claiming negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death. It names the Gansvoort-based limo service, Prestige Limousine & Chauffeur Service, owner Shahed Hussain and his son, Nauman, as operator. Shahed Hussain was in his native Pakistan at the time of the crash and has not returned.

Nauman Hussain is also facing a criminal investigation, with state police charging he knowingly kept the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo on the road despite its having failed inspections for mechanical deficiencies, including bad brakes.

More: The Schoharie limo tragedy: The victims, the investigation, the community outpouring

Hussain and Prestige Limo are being represented by Wilson Elser's Albany office. Elizabeth Grogan, the attorney handling the case there, said Tuesday that she would not comment on pending litigation.

The Rivenberg estate has also filed a notice of claim against New York state, charging that the intersection of routes 30 and 30A where the crash happened was known to be unsafe, and the state failed in its responsibility to properly oversee the limo company. The suit references failed state inspections prior to the crash.

"We're very seriously looking at the responsibility of the state in this situation," Ferlazzo said. "I believe, by the end of the year, we will have that lawsuit filed."

Tuesday's hearing was an opportunity for the National Transportation Safety Board, state police, Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery and the defense to work out an agreement for the NTSB to get access to the limo, which is in state police custody. The NTSB is conducting a separate transportation safety investigation.

The crash happened as the stretch limousine, carrying the driver and 17 passengers to a birthday celebration, went through a stop sign at routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Oct. 6, striking and killing two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store.

All of those in the limousine, including four sisters from Amsterdam and three of their spouses, were killed. More lawsuits are expected as courts appoint executors to oversee their estates.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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