Since the end of the "government shutdown" a few weeks ago, the affected agencies have been dealing with a backlog of overdue "decisions," "rulings," "reports" and other functions. One such agency is the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Many people are surprised to learn that the NTSB is, as far as government agencies go, quite small. With a total workforce of around 450, it is smaller than the average city's police department and its operating budget of $150 million would be "petty cash" to other agencies. However, the NTSB has absolute authority to investigate all civil aviation accidents and also has discretionary authority to investigate significant accidents involving other areas such as the trucking and railroad industries. With these facts in mind, we turn our attention to an October 2018 accident that claimed 20 lives.
The following summary is taken from the NTSB preliminary report, "Preliminary Report: Highway HW19MH001."
On the afternoon of October 6th of last year, a 2001 Ford Excursion that had been modified to a "stretch limo" configuration was traveling south on New York State Route 30 (NY-30) when it was unable to stop at a "T" intersection. The vehicle entered the parking lot of a restaurant at "… a high rate of speed …" before striking a parked vehicle, causing that vehicle to strike three people who were in its immediate vicinity. The limo continued through the parking lot before striking a ravine and coming to rest. The accident resulted in twenty deaths (the limo driver, all 17 occupants of the limo, and 2 who were killed when the limo struck the parked vehicle as it entered the parking lot).
The NTSB report goes on to note that the standard wheelbase of a 2001 Ford Excursion would have been 137 inches but the wheelbase of the accident vehicle had been extended by 180 inches [15 feet] in order to accommodate the installation of additional seating that increased the Excursion's capacity to 18. This increased passenger capacity, the NTSB notes, would place the vehicle under the authority of the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT).
The NTSB report concludes with a statement that is not often seen in such reports:
"The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to gather information on the modifications and mechanical condition of the vehicle, the seat belt usage and survivability of the passengers, and the oversight of the passenger-carrying operation by the New York State Department of Transportation and New York State Department of Motor Vehicles."[emphasis added]
In order to appreciate the possible significance of the above statement, it is helpful to review what happened in the days and weeks following the accident.
Within hours of the accident, various news sources were reporting that several of the passengers had sent text messages indicating that they were aware the vehicle was experiencing mechanical problems. One source, citing messages received from relatives of victims, stated that the victim thought the vehicle was "in terrible condition" and that one passenger had noted that the vehicle's brakes were "smoking."
It was also learned that the wrecked vehicle had failed two mandatory safety inspections and that following the last inspection, the vehicle was "tagged" as being unfit to transport passengers and thus not allowed to be used for that purpose. It is unknown who removed the tag from the vehicle prior to the accident.
When the NTSB team arrived to begin their investigation, they were denied access to the vehicle (which was being stored under a tent behind the local state police barracks) on grounds that it was evidence in a criminal prosecution. Some observers are "on record" as stating that, while a criminal case takes priority, it is very unusual to see the NTSB "shut out" of an investigation. Such a policy would originate with the Schoharie County district attorney's office.
The AlbanyTimes Union, which has been tracking developments in the circumstances surrounding the Schoharie accident, has also reported that:
Since the Schoharie crash, the New York Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Motor Vehicles (DMV) had complied a list of 59 "limos" that were, for one reason or another, being operated illegally and the DMV had asked the New York State Police to seize the license plates of those vehicles. The same story also quoted limousine industry sources as saying that the DMV had also "blacklisted" the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) to prevent those vehicles from being sold or transferred to another party. (Source)
The Aftermath of a Limo Accident
From what has been made public, we think that much of what has been reported is nothing more than a "turf war" involving the local district attorney and the NTSB. However, we must also point out that this case is an example of why a personal injury law firm should conduct its own investigation of an accident: cooperate with everyone, but make sure that all evidence is properly stored and controlled.
At The Doan Law Firm, we always conduct our own investigation of accident cases where we are representing an injured client. In many such investigations, we are able to discover evidence indicating that other factors may have contributed to our client's injuries and thus increase the value of the judgement that we eventually win for them.
If you were injured due to someone else's negligence, contact The Doan Law Firm to learn more about how we aggressively represent our clients and protect their right to secure a fair settlement of their injury claim.