10/13/2011Judge Absolves FBI Over Ferrari Destroying Joy Ride
US government will pay no damages after a federal agent wrecked a $750,000 Ferrari during a joy ride.
A federal judge on September 27 absolved the US Department of Justice (DOJ) from any liability after an FBI agent destroyed a $750,000 Ferrari during a joy ride. Motors Insurance Corporation had been seeking to recover the value of a 1995 Ferrari F50 that was in the custody of department officials. Motors dropped a separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the department on October 3.
The vehicle in question originally had been stolen in 2003 from Algar Ferrari, a Pennsylvania dealership. Motors paid the $630,000 insurance claim, which gave Motors title to the missing exotic. Ferrari only produced 349 of the highly sought-after F50s, so its value increased over time. On August 12, 2008, the FBI stumbled upon the stolen car in Lexington, Kentucky during an investigation into a separate crime. The agency held the vehicle with permission from Motors while the thief was investigated. On May 27, 2009, FBI Special Agent Frederick C. Kingston got behind the wheel of the Ferrari with by Assistant US Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson in the passenger seat.
"Just a few seconds after we left the parking lot, we went around a curve, and the rear of the car began sliding," Thompson wrote in an email to a superior. "The agent tried to regain control, but the car fishtailed and slid sideways up onto the curb. The vehicle came to rest against a row of bushes and a small tree. Both myself and the agent exited of our own power."
The car was totaled, and the DOJ refused to accept any responsibility, asserting sovereign immunity. The department stonewalled all requests from Motors seeking information regarding the incident. The Federal Tort Claims Act does allow for an individual to recover damages caused by the negligence of federal employees while acting within the scope of their employment. This law, however, includes a "detention-of-goods" exception, 28 US Code Section 2680(c), that absolves the government from claims "arising in respect of... the detention of any goods" by a law enforcement officer.
US District Court Judge Avern Cohn found that the exception covered the case at hand because the Ferrari was being detained by law enforcement.
"It is certainly unfortunate what befell MIC's vehicle," Judge Cohn ruled. "However, the vehicle was damaged while being detained by law enforcement officers within the meaning of Section 2680(c). As such, the government cannot be liable under the FTCA for what occurred. Accordingly, the government's motion is granted. This case is dismissed."
Cohn noted that presuming the car was destroyed during a "joy ride" would have made it even harder to recover damages because that would mean the agents had acted outside the scope of their official duties. As such, the government would not be liable for their conduct.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.