To Hannah Linderholm, it sounded like a fun October Friday night — pile into a limo with friends and go to a haunted house.
“We thought obviously, being safe, take a limo,” Linderholm said.
What Linderholm didn’t know was that Ansari’s Limos had no permit for a limousine service and the driver that night wasn’t legally qualified to drive one for business. That night in Cottage Grove, two cars smashed into the black stretch Chrysler limo after the driver backed it onto a busy highway.
Eight of the 10 limo passengers on Oct. 17 were injured, three seriously. Linderholm, 23, suffered a broken nose, fractured eye socket and bone-deep gash in her forehead.
Now the group is caught in a dispute with the insurance company for the Eagan-based limo operator over who should pay medical bills, estimated at more than $100,000 so far. The insurer has refused to pay the no-fault medical and wage loss benefits, claiming that the limo was being operated for free at the time, and wasn’t on business.
The injured passengers’ attorney, Paul Otten, said it was rented for $300.
The lawyers also disagree on who was at fault in the accident, which is still under investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
Lancer Insurance Co., the insurer for Ansari’s Limos, would only say it is looking into the matter.
Brian Wood, a lawyer Lancer Insurance hired to represent Ansari’s Limos and driver Randy W. Smith, called the dispute an “insurance coverage question.” “This is so routine,” Wood said. Liability insurance could still cover the medical bills, if the limo driver is found to be at fault, he said.
Ramsey Ansari, owner of Ansari’s Limos, said he couldn’t talk about the situation. His limo company lists the same address as Ansari’s Mediterranean Grill and Lounge in Eagan.
Ansari’s Limos was one of more than 400 limo operators that MnDOT licenses and regulates. Its permit was suspended on Oct. 17, 2011, for failure to maintain insurance coverage, records show. It was revoked for that reason on Dec. 16, 2011.
Limo operators bear the responsibility for ensuring their drivers are qualified. The list of driver qualifications includes a driver’s license that has not been revoked, canceled or suspended in the past three years.
The man at the wheel of the limo that night, Smith, 52, of Eagan, had his driver’s license revoked in March 2014 for failure to provide proof of insurance. It was reinstated in April, according to Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services. Smith could not be reached for comment.
According to Otten, the event was organized by Patrick Boran, a friend of Ramsey Ansari’s. Boran, 42, would not say whether that’s true, but said he bought tickets for everyone to shoot zombies with paintballs from a hayride.
Linderholm said she didn’t know Boran, but that she was friends with the rest of the group, which included her close friend Jamie Marshall.
They met at Boran’s house in Eagan, and got into the limousine there. After picking up a few more people, they stopped at a restaurant for dinner and drinks and headed to the Haunting Experience on Hwy. 61 in Cottage Grove.
Jeremy Franklund, a passenger, said Boran showed them a text message indicating a charge for the limo.
“He showed me that night, ‘Look we’re paying $300’,” Franklund said. “He announced it to everyone in the limo, ‘Hey, an extra $100 bucks and we can smoke in here!’ ”
Boran denied that there was a $300 charge, or any text message about it, but acknowledged that they discussed paying the $100 smoking fee. They also understood that they were supposed to tip the driver, Boran said.
Linderholm and Marshall said they just knew that one of their friends was paying for the limo.
Marshall said she remembers the limo turning off Hwy. 61 to drive into the parking lot.
“We were just pulling in,” Marshall said. “We were like, ‘We’re here!’ ”
Then, the limo bottomed out. Linderholm said they heard a scraping sound, and the driver backed up. The State Patrol accident report states that the driver said he backed up to make the turn at a different angle. A diagram shows the limo nearly perpendicular across the northbound lanes of Hwy. 61.
There was enough space and distance that the other drivers should have seen the limo and been able to avoid it, said Wood, the attorney for Ansari’s Limos.
The first collision banged them up, Linderholm recalled. Then she watched headlights speeding straight at them.
“There was nothing we could do,” she said. “We knew the car wasn’t slowing down and then that’s when it hit us. Blood was just everywhere.”
The windows shattered, she said, and both she and Marshall were trapped, their legs pinned by the limo’s bar. Linderholm was bleeding profusely from her face and thought she would die, terrified a third hit was coming: “Everyone was saying ‘C’mon, Hannie, you need to get out, you need to get out!’ ”
Linderholm managed to crawl out a window and collapsed in a ditch.
After two surgeries on her face, Linderholm will need a third. Unlike some of the injured passengers, she has auto and health insurance. She works for a life insurance company in Roseville. But she feels the limo operator should be held accountable.
“I didn’t think it would be this much of a struggle,” she said.
Otten said he has handled hundreds of personal injury claims involving car accidents and this is the first time he has encountered this problem. No-fault benefits are supposed to be non-adversarial and “kind of automatic,” he said.
“Rather than take steps to right the wrong, the insurance company is now doubling down on the limo service’s mistakes,” he said. “It is a game of delay, deny and dissent.”