The investigation into the limousine crash in upstate New York is early and ongoing. There are many unanswered questions about what happened and why.
This tragedy is a textbook example of the complex theories of liability and negligence that often arise in accidents involving commercial vehicles. The fact that the driver and all 17 passengers died (as well as two pedestrians) makes it even harder to sort out.
Potential liability in the Schoharie accident
There are few established facts other than the death toll (20) and the location of the crash. The investigation has resulted in one arrest. Independent of the criminal charges, there may be lots of blame to go around in the civil lawsuits. Here are some of the parties who may be liable:
- The limo company - Prestige Limo may be sued on numerous grounds. The stretch limo might have been improperly built. Authorities say the limo was on the road despite unrepaired safety defects identified in an inspection. Prestige could also be liable for negligent hiring or training.
- The owner/operator - The families will likely personally sue the owner of Prestige (Shahed Hussain) and his son (Nauman Hussain), who was running the company. Did they knowingly send an unfit vehicle to pick up 17 passengers?
- The driver's estate - Scott Lisinicchia had a CDL (commercial driver's license) but lacked the "P" endorsement required for transporting passengers. The investigation may reveal that he was intoxicated, distracted or made a fatal driving error. Or the investigation may exonerate him of any wrongdoing.
- The auto shop - The stretch limo, constructed from a Ford Excursion SUV, was never federally authorized. If the vehicle's structure or safety features failed because of inferior materials or shoddy workmanship, the body shop could be liable.
- The State of New York - The T intersection where the accident occurred, at the bottom of a steep hill, is notoriously dangerous. The state may be sued for poor roadway design, improper signage or other negligence, under the argument that it should have done more after prior accidents at that location.
- The victims - In theory, the partying passengers could have contributed to the crash. There is no evidence of this, but investigators will try to reconstruct all activity prior to the accident. Or the defense could argue that the passengers are partly at fault (comparative negligence) for failing to use their seat belts. New York does not require limo passengers to wear seat belts, but perhaps it would have spared lives.
For now, all we have is rumors, speculation and conflicting reports. Over the next weeks and months, the investigation will begin to fill in the blanks, and the lawsuits will be filed.