Wiseman’s widow settled her suit against Tutunjian for $1.25 million — after another judge also froze $5 million of Tutunjian’s assets — and received about $1 million to settle a claim against Massport, according to court documents and the authority.
As a result of the horrific accident, Massport improved Logan’s safety protocols, requiring drivers to shut off the engine before getting out of a cab.
Labyrinthine fiscal structure
Tutunjian’s determination to protect his business and his wealth is epitomized by the firm at the center of his empire — EJT Management. EJT maintains bank accounts to handle daily cash flow, and has dozens of employees who buy and repair taxis and hand out keys to drivers.
But it is not, Tutunjian has repeatedly argued in court, a taxi company.
EJT itself owns no medallions and has no responsibility for what those drivers do on the road, he contends. It just rents taxis to “independent businessmen,” in Tutunjian’s words, who present a valid hackney license and safe driving record.
Tutunjian is so adamant that EJT and Boston Cab bear no responsibility for accidents that, in the aftermath of the lawsuit by Wiseman’s widow, both companies filed counterclaims against her. The companies asserted that they neither own nor control vehicles and “owed her nothing,’’ and accused her of suing them “falsely and maliciously.’’
The elaborate structure of Tutunjian’s cab business isn’t just confusing to people injured in taxi accidents. Sovereign Bank, which has loaned Tutunjian millions of dollars, also couldn’t keep it straight after interviewing him and analyzing his businesses. When the bank approved a $19 million loan in 2001, it said in a memorandum that “EJT is now the largest medallion owner in Boston.’’
And Tutunjian himself has had difficulty at times staying on script.
Although he says cabbies are not his employees, he has spoken at times in a proprietary way about “my drivers,” and he once testified that a particular driver who was in a serious crash “still drives for me.”
Connolly, the now-retired Superior Court judge, in 2011 described Tutunjian’s two-pronged legal strategy in personal injury lawsuits this way: “If Tutunjian does not succeed with his ‘independent contractor’ ploy, his and his other corporate and personal assets may be hidden and protected by the corporate veil of the small corporation.’’
If plaintiffs can prove that Tutunjian’s corporate setup is a facade, the law allows them to pursue his larger business empire for damages. But it is a high legal hurdle to clear, one that requires marshaling detailed evidence about how the company operates.
When Tutunjian settled Wiseman’s and Rideout’s lawsuits, as well as that of Lozano, the cabbie who lost his legs, it was only after judges signaled some sympathy for that argument.
However, the judge in the case of the South Boston woman who broke her neck in a cab in 2000 examined whether Tutunjian’s corporate structure was a facade and found the evidence inconclusive.
Still, the jury in that case awarded the woman and her family about $2 million in damages in 2008. Because Tutunjian had greater financial means, he was ordered to pay most of the award even though the jury concluded that the driver of the car that hit the taxi bore most of the blame.
Another jury awarded Metcalf, the Mass. Pike worker whose truck was struck by a Boston Cab taxi in 2001, $1.4 million, for debilitating back injuries. That didn’t sit well with Tutunjian, who then sued his own attorneys of many years for malpractice. That case was settled out of court.
As Tutunjian pointed out in a statement to the Globe, juries have sided with him in several cases that went to trial. Last fall, for example, a jury rejected a claim by a Boston University student who suffered a brain injury when she was struck by a cab as she jaywalked across Commonwealth Avenue on Halloween night in 2008.
The Globe found nearly 100 personal injury lawsuits filed against Tutunjian’s companies in the past two decades.
Despite the raft of cases, there is no reason to think that Boston Cab drivers are more accident-prone than those of other cab companies. But there is no way to tell. Boston police do not track accidents involving cabs.
It’s also likely that the number of lawsuits understates the number of people injured by Tutunjian’s cabs. Numerous lawyers told the Globe that many more victims cannot get an attorney to take their cases because it is so difficult to penetrate Tutunjian’s legal fortress. Others are discouraged by the 20/40 insurance limits for cabs, unaware that behind those low coverage limits are wealthy owners.Continued...