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Family of Dead Queens Pedestrian To Sue City Over Fatal Taxi Driver Crash

12:01 AM EDT on May 23, 2019

This Google street view shows the cab stand and the Mobil station at issue in the lawsuit by the family of dead pedestrian Sherena Hundalani. Photo: Google

The City of New York and the Taxi and Limousine Commission should pay $25 million to the grieving family of a Queens pedestrian fatally struck by a hit-and-run cabbie earlier this year because both were negligent in preventing the death, said the lawyer for the mother and father of the victim.

Sherena Hundalani
Sherena Hundalani

Sherena Hundalani, 26, was run over by cab driver Lakhvinder Singh on Feb. 24 on Queens Boulevard near the corner of 63rd Road in Rego Park, police said. Driver Lakhvinder Singh has not been criminally charged, so Hundalani family lawyer Edward Paltzik said he is pursuing justice — and crucial changes that would improve safety and driver compliance — through a civil suit against New York authorities.

"City streets are a total free-for-all," he said. "It's the Wild West."

The lawsuit stems from the crash in front of a Mobil station at the busy intersection across the street from the Rego Center Mall, housing a Marshall's and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. The initial police report said only that Hundalani was struck on the sidewalk of Queens Boulevard near 63rd Road by the cabbie as he exited the gas station. Cops said Singh briefly fled. He was later questioned, but released.

Paltzik said his own investigation confirmed the police narrative — but revealed that the initial report is just a tiny portion of the larger picture of city and TLC negligence. According to the lawyer:

    • The 4 p.m. incident began when Singh, who was waiting at a taxi stand on 63rd Road just north of the corner of Queens Boulevard, crossed all three lanes of 63rd Road to enter the Mobil station.
    • He wasn't getting gas, but using the Mobil station as a shortcut to Queens Boulevard.
    • But the driver grazed a pedestrian on the sidewalk. That pedestrian, who has been interviewed by Paltzik's team, was very lightly injured. It is very unlikely that Singh would have been charged for that infraction.
    • Nonetheless, Singh panicked and raced out of the Mobil station and onto the sidewalk on his way toward Queens Boulevard. That's where he struck Hundalani, and dragged her, before fleeing.
    • The Queens District Attorney, who has not charged Singh, has a videotape of the incident. Paltzik has not seen it, but said it was described to him.

Paltzik said the city is liable for the crash because the entire area, including the wide sidewalk between the Mobil station and the Queens Boulevard roadway, is unsafe.

"That cab stand should even be there," he said. "It encourages exactly what happened — the cabs all use the Mobil station as a cut-through. Allowing this cut-through behavior — which is a moving violation — shows that the city is negligent. And they've been aware of this for quite some time.

Lakhvinder Singh
Lakhvinder Singh

"But they didn't do anything," Paltzik continued. "There is no demarcation between the sidewalk and the Mobil station, so you have motorists fighting pedestrians for territory. You see cars almost striking pedestrians all the time. It's the Wild West. They should put up barriers, signs, paint. The pedestrians don't know where the motorists are going."

Paltzik said the Taxi and Limousine Commission is also liable because it failed to keep Singh off the road before the crash — though his license remains suspended, TLC told Streetsblog.

"I can't get into specifics," he said, citing the Queens DA's ongoing investigation, "but we discovered issues with him. He should not have been driving. ... The TLC should have known that he should have been disqualified from driving a cab."

In a separate statement issued after filing the notice of claim against the city on Tuesday, Paltzik also blasted the entire taxi industry for enabling a system that allows cabbies to carry insurance that provides just $100,000-per-person crash coverage.

"In a city run by meddling lawmakers and bureaucrats who want to regulate everything from the size of peoples’ soft drinks to the kinds of straws they use, it is unfathomable that the city licenses taxi drivers who are grossly underinsured and with minimal vetting," he said with his co-counsel, Brett Joshpe.

In an interview, Paltzik called on state lawmakers to raise the minimum to $1 million — dubbing the proposal "Sherena's Law" after the victim, who worked at her parent’s restaurants — Mamasita and Mi Nidito — in Manhattan and lived with her sister, Dinika, in Rego Park.

"Obviously we want to prevent these kinds of crashes, but at least you wouldn't have a situation where families are left without anything that even comes close to adequate compensation," he said. "Obvious, no amount of money can replace a lost son or daughter, but this is they way our system holds people accountable. But now Prakash and Bina Hundalani are left with just $100,000 in compensation."

He argued that higher-priced insurance would discourage some cab drivers from getting into the business.

"If you had to make such a serious investment, some bad cab drivers would be filtered out," he said. "But the insurance companies and the taxi companies and the city are all enablers for cab drivers."

The Queens DA did not respond to a request for comment. The DOT never answers questions when there is pending litigation.

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