How Simple Due Diligence Could Have Saved 20 Lives

The deadly limo accident in Schoharie, N.Y, provides a somber reminder of the value of performing due diligence and conducting background investigations.
By: | October 22, 2018 • 6 min read

As details are revealed about the deadliest U.S. transportation crash in a decade, several tragic truths have started to come out, too.

In fact, many safety violations and prior criminal convictions have since been reported, all coming back to Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service; its owner, Shahed Hussain; its operator, Nauman Hussain; and the limo’s driver, Scott Lisinicchia.

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Any and all of these facts might have given the victims pause had they been aware.

As with any heartbreaking loss of life, it is vital to consider the red flags that could have prevented the deadly accident in Schoharie, New York, which took 20 lives. This tragic accident happened just 40 miles west of our corporate headquarters. I (and several of my employees) personally know or have worked with family members related to the young men and women involved in this terribly sad incident.

I felt compelled to write about what, if anything, can be done to protect the public and the due diligence procedures employers can implement to potentially prevent a tragedy in the future.

Performing due diligence and conducting background investigations is vital for companies that provide services to the public, offer transportation options or are hiring employees to work for them. Consumers and employers alike need to be aware the highest level of safety and security can only be obtained by conducting investigations prior to hiring an employee or a company to provide services.

In many instances, something as simple as a Google search or check of a company’s online reviews can turn up relevant details.

Consider the following information that has come to light following the tragic crash in Schoharie. The limousine involved in the accident, which replaced a broken-down “party bus” initially reserved by the victims, was a 2001 Ford Excursion. The limo, booked hurriedly and at the last minute due to the breakdown of the preferred vehicle, had not been properly converted to a stretch limo. Since the limo was altered after leaving the factory, it skirted the tough safety guidelines it should have otherwise met, making it unsafe to drive.

Consumers and employers alike need to be aware the highest level of safety and security can only be obtained by conducting investigations prior to hiring an employee or a company to provide services. In many instances, something as simple as a Google search or check of a company’s online reviews can turn up relevant details.

In addition, the New York State Department of Transportation and September 2018 federal records deemed the limousine unfit for use. At that time, the vehicle was placed out of service and the owner was warned not to operate the vehicle.

In addition, according to the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the vehicle was improperly classified given the number of seats it contained. Limousines can only have between 9 and 15 passengers, including the driver. Any automobile capable of carrying more, like this one, would need to be classified as a bus.

In details that have been revealed since the crash, New York State Governor Mario Cuomo revealed that the vehicle’s chassis, suspension and brakes were all unsafe. Furthermore, federal records show the company had four vehicles taken out of service after undergoing five inspections in the last two years, a whopping 80 percent failure rate.

Tragically, text messages that have been made public since the crash reveal that some of the victims complained about the shoddy condition of the vehicle and the loud noises they heard coming from the engine while they were en route to their destination.

Cuomo has also reported that the limousine driver, Scott Lisinicchia, did not have the proper commercial driver license (CDL) with a passenger endorsement that would be required to operate the vehicle. In addition, the driver had been charged with unlawful possession of marijuana in 2010. After being pulled over during a traffic stop in 2013, Lisinicchia was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana and an equipment violation.

Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service had plenty of issues of its own. The company’s owner, Shahed Hussain, fled Pakistan in 1994 after being arrested for murder. He was able to escape, because his father paid a bribe of $1,350, allowing him to leave with a human trafficker and travel first from Moscow to Mexico and then into the United States. Hussain used a fake British passport to achieve this, according to court testimony heard in 2010.

Once settled in Albany, N.Y., Hussain was involved in a scheme where he conspired with a crooked DMV employee to sell fake driver licenses to immigrants. Instead of facing up to 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the federal fraud crime, he only paid a $100 fine and served no time, because he became an FBI informant. His work with the FBI led to the controversial arrest and conviction of several suspected terrorists.

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In 2006, Hussain purchased a dilapidated motel and was sued for taking reservation money for unavailable rooms. In 2017, this property, the Crest Inn Suites and Cottages in Gansevoort, New York, failed two building inspections and was cited for several violations, including improper fittings and lack of support for the waste lines. At that time, all residents were forced to evacuate.

Hussain is believed to be back in Pakistan, but his son, Nauman Hussain, was arrested after the accident on charges of criminally negligent homicide. Nauman Hussain was caught by police in what appeared to be an attempt to flee in a vehicle filled with his personal belongings.

What can be done to prevent this sort of horrific incident?

Thorough personal research before committing to work done by contractors, maintenance workers or rentals of any kind is critical. It pays to be informed. Peruse Google, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List and other websites that might provide reviews of a company and listen to your gut. Speak to others who have used the companies you are considering and ask for their opinions. If something strikes you as problematic, absolutely do not move forward.

We recommend any company involved in the transportation industry conduct the following background investigation searches:

  • Social Security and Address History Searches
  • Statewide, Federal and Criminal Searches
  • DMV Searches — reveals past violations or issues of licensure
  • Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — ensures companies aren’t doing business with firms being sanctioned by the U.S. or individuals involved in terrorism, narcotics and/or other disreputable activities
  • Infinity Screening — periodic post-employment background investigations
  • E-Verify — verifies an applicant’s legal eligibility to work in the U.S.
  • Drug Screening
  • Employment Verification
  • Department of Transportation Verification — provides an applicant’s driving position safety performance history within the last 3 years
  • Vendor Integrity Investigations — critical if you are hiring subcontractors on behalf of your place of employment
  • Social Media Investigations — conducted on an ongoing basis, social media investigations provide a wealth of knowledge
  • For New York State companies, we also recommend License Event Notification System (LENS) — automated reporting system that sends ongoing license record changes, such as accidents and convictions, by email

If something does turn up during the course of an investigation, you can use your judgment to determine whether it is a deal-breaker given your circumstances. Having this information on your side is critical, however, in protecting the well-being of your customers, employees, friends and family. It’s also essential when it comes to reducing your liability as a business owner. &

Mario Pecoraro is President and CEO of Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group Inc., which specializes in background screening and insurance fraud investigations and has grown into a national/international investigative firm with a variety of services including pre- and post-employment screening customizable to any industry. He is also owner of sister company, Avvocato Litigation Support International, Inc., which is powered by Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, providing attorneys and law firms all forms of legal support. In addition, Preferred Adjustment Company, powered by Alliance, provides full service claims handling and property/casualty adjusting services for insurance carriers, self-insured companies and attorneys. Mario can be reached at [email protected] For more information visit our website at www.allianceinvestigative.com.

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]