Mavis loses appeal seeking dismissal from civil suits in Schoharie limo crash

Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs is pictured.

Mavis Discount Tire in Saratoga Springs is pictured.

Article Audio:

ALBANY — Mavis Discount Tire will remain a defendant in civil lawsuits filed by families of the 20 victims of the 2018 Schoharie limo crash after the company lost its appeal to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany seeking its dismissal from the cases.

“This decision affirms they are in this case for the long haul,” said attorney Thomas Mortati, who responded to the appeal on behalf of all plaintiffs in the civil cases. “This was an across-the-board win for the plaintiffs shooting down arguments I thought, quite frankly, were frivolous and premature.”

The appeals court on Thursday issued a written decision upholding the prior ruling of Acting Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman denying Mavis’ motion for dismissal from the civil complaints. Mavis had appealed that decision from April 2021.

“Plaintiffs’ complaints and amended complaints detail a cascading series of events leading up to the subject crash that largely began with maintenance performed by the Mavis store,” the decision written by Presiding Justice Elizabeth Garry states.

Attorney Benjamin Allee, representing Mavis, in February appeared before the four-judge panel hearing the appeal arguing the limo’s failure was “inevitable” based on the actions of the operators, which he claimed happened “long after” the auto repair chain handled the vehicle.

The appeals court rejected Allee’s assertions that involvement by Mavis with the vehicle was “too remote in time from the accident” to have directly caused it. He had sought to shift all blame to the primary defendants in the lawsuits; Prestige Limousine, operator Nauman Hussain and owner Shahed Hussain.

The actions of others would not supersede Mavis’ role in the alleged failure to properly maintain the limo, according to the court ruling. All 17 passengers, the driver, and two bystanders in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store were killed at the intersection of Routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie when the limo suffered catastrophic brake failure on Oct. 6, 2018.

“Plaintiffs have adequately pleaded that the Mavis store launched an instrument of harm by enabling a vehicle known to be unroadworthy to operate commercially, creating an unreasonable risk of harm to others,” Garry wrote.

Prestige Limousine operator Nauman Hussain allegedly brought the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limo involved in the crash to the Mavis in Saratoga Springs for brake service in September 2016.

The lawsuits claim Mavis bent the vehicle’s rear brake line, causing it to collapse while replacing a rotor. Mechanics did not subsequently replace the line as called for by industry standards. The issue persisted, along with other alleged brake problems when the vehicle was brought to the shop again in May 2018.

The limo two months earlier had reportedly failed a roadside inspection due to severe mechanical defects and was ordered off the road by the state Department of Transportation. The state agency put an “out of service” sticker on the vehicle, which was allegedly later removed by Nauman Hussain.

Yet, Nauman Hussain reportedly informed Mavis of the failed inspection when he brought the limo in for service. The lawsuits contend Mavis issued the 18-passenger limo a state Department of Motor Vehicles inspection sticker without examining the vehicle, which was subject to more stringent DOT inspections based on its capacity.

Mortati had argued before the appeals court the crash victims could not have know the DMV inspection sticker was issued illegally and the 17 passengers relied on the information as an assurance of their safety in hiring the limo to transport them to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown.

The limo in September 2018 was again inspected by DOT, which found defects identified months earlier had not been remedied and the vehicle was ordered off the road. A motor vehicle autopsy after the crash found the partially collapsed rear brake line was a key factor in the catastrophic failure the limo suffered, according to the court ruling.

“The facts set forth by plaintiffs, if proven, could support various reasonable inferences, including that, regardless of Nauman Hussain’s alleged criminal conduct, the September 2016 damage to the rear brake line is one of several legal causes of the harm suffered by plaintiffs and that said conduct was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the Mavis store’s unauthorized and fraudulent actions and omissions,” Garry wrote.

The decision issued by the appeals court went on to state arguments contained in the lawsuits could support claims for punitive damages against Mavis.

“We’re going to pursue every available avenue for justice, including against Mavis, and this clears the way for us to do that,” Mortati said. “This decision affirms they are in this case for the long haul.”

Cynthia LaFave, another attorney representing families of the crash victims in the civil suits, said individuals she had spoken to shortly after the decision was issued were “extremely grateful.”

“It shows they understood how much could have been done differently and how these lives could have been saved,” LaFave said. “I believe in the end we will see decisions coming out, verdicts or settlements, with Mavis because of this decision, which will certainly help the people who are left behind, especially those who had children.”

The civil lawsuits are still slowly proceeding through the discovery phase towards potential trials. Mortati said the decision by the appeals court opens the door for Mavis employees to finally be deposed.

“While we believe that Nauman Hussain, his family and the limousine company, that they were negligent and did improper things in relation to the limousine, we think Mavis, quite frankly, was in it up to their eyeballs,” Mortati said.

The criminal case against Nauman Hussain is still pending, which Mortati acknowledged could continue to slow down the civil suits. He is scheduled to stand trial on 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide and 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter on May 1.

An appeal filed by Nauman Hussain’s lawyers is pending before the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court seeking to overturn Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch’s decision in August to toss out a previously negotiated plea agreement avoiding jail time.

A spokesperson for Mavis declined comment for this story. Allee did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

By Ashley Onyon

Leave a Reply