FULTON & SCHOHARIE COUNTIES -- A new lawsuit from the family of a victim in last year's fatal Schoharie limousine crash has been filed in state Supreme Court in Fulton County in Johnstown.
The newest in more than a half-dozen lawsuits filed over the tragic crash was filed by Jill Perez, mother of crash victim Matthew Coons, on behalf of his estate. It sues Shahed, Nauman and Malik Hussain as operators of Prestige Limousine, and also Mavis Discount Tires, which is accused of conducting an improper inspection on the stretch limousine involved in the Oct. 6, 2018, crash in Schoharie.
The Hussains and Mavis have been named in previous lawsuits arising from the crash, and have denied liability for the deaths. Shahed Hussain owned Prestige Limousine and has remained out of the country since the crash; his son Nauman Hussain was the company's day-to-day operator. Malik Hussain, Shahed Hussain's brother and a resident of Pakistan, partially financed the limo business and also bears liability, according to the lawsuit.
The crash took 20 lives, and the one-year anniversary of the crash was marked this past weekend with the unveiling of a memorial Saturday morning at the crash site and a candlelight vigil Sunday night in Amsterdam, hometown of many of the victims.
Michael Smrtic of Gloversville, the attorney representing Perez and the Coons estate, said his client is filing a lawsuit now in part because she wants to keep the issues raised by the crash in the public eye. Perez is pushing for limousine regulation reforms to be made by the state Legislature in Albany, he said.
Smrtic anticipates filing a claim against New York state over the condition of the Route 30-Route 30A intersection where the crash occurred, in a rural spot north of the village of Schoharie.
"By keeping the pressure on those culpable for this senseless tragedy which never should have happened, our client hopes that no one will forget the loved ones who lost their lives and hopes that something positive can come out of the pain and anguish the families have had to endure," Smrtic said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Coons, 27, an Army veteran and landscaper who lived in Gloversville, was killed along with his girlfriend, Savannah Bursese. They were in a group of 17 young adults taking a limousine to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown when the crash occurred.
The lawyers for the various victims' estates are working together, Smrtic said in an interview on Monday, and he expects all the civil cases to be consolidated at some point in one court, since they all raise the same issues. To date, victim lawsuits have been filed in Albany, Montgomery and Saratoga counties, as well as Fulton County. Estates of the two pedestrians killed have filed separate lawsuits in Cayuga County.
Smrtic acknowledged that parts of the civil cases may not be able to move forward until after the criminal case against Hussain is resolved, when information now held by state police and prosecutors will become available to civil attorneys. "We will keep a close eye on what transpires with the criminal case," he said.
Nauman Hussain is scheduled to go on trial in Schoharie County Court in March on 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
The crash occurred when a 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine owned by Prestige Limousine of Wilton came down a long hill on state Route 30 in Schoharie, sped through the stop sign at state Route 30A, and crashed near the Apple Barrel Country Store. The crash killed all 17 passengers in the vehicle, the driver, and two pedestrians in the Apple Barrel parking lot.
Prosecutors believe the vehicle suffered a catastrophic brake failure. The limousine had failed state Department of Transportation inspections due to issues including brake problems, and had been repaired and inspected at the Mavis Discount Tire store in Saratoga Springs, even though it wasn't authorized to inspect high-capacity vehicles like stretch limousines.
Lawyers in those and other lawsuits say the Hussains registered the limousine as a standard vehicle, even though they should have known that as an 18-passenger vehicle, was subject to a separate registration and inspection process.
"The Hussain defendants knew or should have known that the 2001 Ford Excursion Limousine was not in a reasonably safe condition, as it was not in a safe operating condition due to the existence of numerous mechanical defects," the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also charges that Scott Lisinicchia, the driver hired by Nauman Hussain, didn't warn the passengers about the vehicle's mechanical problems, and says he should have been aware of them. Lisinicchia did not have the proper commercial driver's license to transport so many passengers.
Smrtic said he expects to bring a future case against New York state in the Court of Claims, contending that the intersection was unsafe. "The road conditions, the signage, the road design," Smrtic said. "Our position is the state did nothing to address that intersection."
The state has denied the design or condition of the intersection contributed to the crash.