Son of Prestige Limousine Services Owner Arraigned on 40 Counts of Second-Degree Manslaughter, Criminally Negligent Homicide

The man in charge of the limousine company involved in the October 6th, 2018 stretch limo accident that killed 20 in Upstate New York has pled "not guilty" to each of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter and 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide following his indictment last week by a Schoharie County grand jury. Schoharie County Court Judge George Bartlett set bail at $225, 000 cash or $450, 000 surety bond.

Under the New York Penal Code, Nauman Hussain faces from 3 to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000 on each count of second degree manslaughter as well as up to 4 years imprisonment on each count of criminally negligent homicide. In addition to facing criminal charges, Nauman Hussain and his father, Shahed Hussain, and Prestige Limousine Services have been named as defendants in at least one wrongful death lawsuit filed by the survivors of one of the victims, Amanda Rivenburg.

In today's post, the commercial vehicle accident and wrongful death lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will address two issues that could arise during the Rivenburg civil lawsuit:

  1. Can the State of New York be sued for failing to enforce existingNew York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) regulations if it could be argued that the accident would not have happened had those regulations ben followed?
  2. What happens if Prestige Limousine Services' liability insurance carrier is unable to meet its obligations due to claims that exceed the policy's coverage limit or if the insurance carrier becomes insolvent?

Can the State of New York be sued for failing to enforce existingNew York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) regulations …

Like other states, and the federal government, the State of New York is protected from most civil liability by the common law construct known as sovereign immunity. Under this doctrine, which is also known as "the King can do no wrong," a state cannot be the target of a lawsuit unless it consents to be sued. Since it would be impractical for a state to grant its consent on a case by case basis, all states have enacted laws that "spell out" the conditions under which a state can be named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit.

In the Schoharie accident case, it appears unlikely that an attempt to sue the State of New York would be successful. Thus, if a jury were to award damages following a civil lawsuit, the only funds that would be available will be either the assets of Prestige Limousine Services or those made available through Prestige's liability insurance carrier. Since it also appears that Prestige has very few, if any, assets that could be sold in order to pay any damages awarded, any damages will have to be paid by Prestige Limousine's insurance carrier, Long Island-based Global Liberty Insurance Co. of New York.

What happens if Prestige Limousine Services' liability insurance carrier is unable to meet its obligations …

On the day prior to the accident, Prestige Limousine Services had purchased the minimum liability coverage required by state law. According to news reports, Prestige Limousine had a habit of purchasing insurance coverage and then cancelling that coverage within a few days. Regardless of when, or for how long, Prestige purchased coverage from Golden Liberty, if Golden Liberty accepted the insurance premium and issued a receipt to confirm that such payment had been made, then Golden Liberty must pay any claims made against Prestige Limousine Services within the limits set forth in the policy.

Within the past month there have been news reports that the insurance holding company that owns Golden Liberty , Atlas Financial Holdings, made a serious error by underestimating the amount that should have been "set aside" to cover claims made against its policy holders. If this is indeed the case, Golden Liberty may also be in financial trouble and thus be unable to meet the large claims that could arise from the Schoharie accident.

If Golden Liberty is unable to honor all the claims made against its policy holders, the New York Department of Financial Services would intervene and pay any claims that the insurer was unable to honor. However, DFS would only be responsible up to the limits specified in the original policies. This is best explained by example.

Most commercial vehicle liability insurance carries limits on the amount it will pay under a given circumstance. Most policies are written with a "per injury" and "per accident" clause, meaning that the insurer will pay up to a certain amount per injured party (usually $250,000) and up to another amount per accident(usually $1 to $3 million. Once those limits are reached, the Department of Financial Services will stop honoring new claims.

Regardless of the financial status of the insured, at The Doan Law Firm we always advise our clients to file their lawsuits as soon as possible after an injury. This is because insurance claims are treated on a "first come, first served" basis. By filing early, our clients will be in a position to have their claims processed before any policy limits are reached.

Our commercial vehicle accident lawyer will be monitoring this case closely and will post other entries to this blog as may be necessary.