Limousine Crash in Schoharie Kills 20 People

Governor Cuomo: This vehicle never had that federal certification, so it violated the federal process. The state then inspects the vehicle. We inspected the vehicle just last month. It failed the inspection. The driver did not have the appropriate license. So I think the owner of this company, the owner of Prestige, has a lot of questions to answer.

Host: Governor Cuomo talking about the Schoharie tragedy, 20 people dead, and we are joined by our legal analyst, Paul Harding, Martin Harding & Mazzotti. Good morning Paul.

Paul: Good morning.

Host: So I mean, this is very early on in the investigation, but already it seems to me there are a bunch of very serious legal issues at play here.

Paul: You know, it just keeps coming, and, you know, the mood in the [inaudible 00:00:46] yesterday after this was just, you could just feel it wherever you went. Everybody just in shock in a sense that, how could it have happened. And so there’s going to be a tremendous amount of investigation and a lot of finger pointing as this goes on.

Host: So, I mean, let’s kind of take them piece by piece. I mean, first of all, the driver didn’t have the required license and the vehicle failed inspection supposedly. I would imagine that would be a slam dunk in terms of, you know, litigation, no?

Paul: Yeah, the owners of this company may even face some criminal charges depending on what happens here in terms of the investigation. But yeah, the liability against the limousine company is clear, and then there just seems to be other things that maybe aren’t right here in terms of the limo not stopping at the stop sign. Doesn’t appear to be any skid marks. So many indications that this is a dangerous intersection. So as the investigation continues, there’s going to be lots of questions and probably lots of people who may have had an opportunity to stop this tragedy.

Female: It sounds like this limo company is done. I mean, their fleet’s taken off the road. I don’t know how deep their pockets are because you would think that if they had the money, they’d be making these repairs. But, so if you were going to go after the limo company for their negligence in putting this unregistered or uninspected vehicle on the road, how do you even do that if there’s nothing to go after?

Paul: Yeah, you know, there’s going to be some insurance on the vehicle, some indication that the vehicle in question was relatively uninsurable by some other folks who are in the industry. So you look at other things. You know, you’ve got this intersection that by all the locals who live in that area are saying, “Look it, this stuff happens all the time. There are vehicles that don’t stop at this stop sign. It’s 50 miles per hour, and then with about 200 feet of the stop sign, you now see the stop sign.” And so, people go through this intersection all the time. You know, was it properly signed? Was it properly marked? It’s New York State, was it improperly designed? So, different defendants potentially would be looked at again. With the number of people and number of loss here, there certainly will not be enough assets on the part of the Prestige Limo.

Host: You know, the state, when it comes to road design, can the state be sued for that kind of a thing? Or you know, sometimes governments protect themselves from that type of litigation.

Paul: No, New York State is not immune from that. Again, they’re the ones who designed it. And if they did so and didn’t have the proper signage, as we approach an intersection oftentimes, and there’s a curve, you know, we have all these signs, they sort of bother us at some point, but they do indicate what’s up ahead. And again, the investigation there, the National Transportation Authority is going to do that investigation, in addition to the crash site, so that report will be very telling.

Host: What about the companies that designed or retrofitted, that turned this vehicle into a stretch? Would the company that did the modifications be liable at all?

Paul: Well, probably that would be looked at, but you know, what we’re finding here is that these modified vehicles have a lot less safety than even just any car on the road. You know, there are no side airbags, they don’t have these roll over bars. And of course, if you are in the back of that limo you are not required to wear a seat belt. So we’re finding this stuff out. I don’t think it was on the forefront of anybody’s thought process, but I do see a tremendous amount of legislative changes going on as it pertains to limousines moving forward.

Host: And do you know on what basis they would bring criminal charges? I mean, obviously, the civil stuff is pretty obvious, but do you know what would swing the scales toward criminal charges as well?

Paul: I took a look back at that Rhode Island pyrotechnic fire back in the early 2000s and charges were brought against the owners of the facility. You know, this vehicle’s on the road. If, let’s say, the vehicle, we don’t know anything about this, but let’s say the brakes just failed and had a result of the vehicle shouldn’t have been there. You know, those are the kind of things that could result in a negligent manslaughter charge. And so the vehicle shouldn’t have been on the road, wasn’t inspected, this happened. But if they can relate as to what happened to the problems with the vehicle, then the owner of that company could face those charges.

Host: WGY legal analyst Paul Harding, Martin Harding & Mazzotti. 1-800-LAW-1010. Thanks a lot, Paul, appreciate it.

Paul: Talk soon, yep