pageok
pageok
pageok
More Chutzpah:

Orin reports:

The Lodi (CA) News-Sentinel has an interesting story about a city dump truck driver who accidentally crashed a city dump truck into his own private truck, jointly owned by himself and his wife. He then asked the city to pay for the damages, on the ground that a city employee had damaged the truck.

AF:
Seems reasonable to me. If he accidentally crashed into someone else's truck, the city would pay. And if some other city employee crashed into his truck, the city would pay. What difference does it make that in this case the truck was his truck and the city employee was him?
3.16.2006 2:10pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Seems reasonable to me. If he accidentally crashed into someone else's truck, the city would pay. And if some other city employee crashed into his truck, the city would pay. What difference does it make that in this case the truck was his truck and the city employee was him?

The possibility that he did it intentionally?
3.16.2006 2:14pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
AF,

He will basically set out to prove his own negligence. This is the adversary system turned on its head. He has to say, "I was negligent," in order to get paid.

Whatever the outcome, he should probably be fired.
3.16.2006 2:23pm
AF:
Nobody is saying it was intentional.

But on reflection, the problem is that if he crashed into someone else's vehicle, both he and the city would be liable, and the city could seek indemnification from him if it wanted. In this case, his liability cancels out the city's liability and there's no reason for the city to pay. Unless, of course, the city has a policy of indemnifying its employees for on-the-job negligence. In which case my original comment stands.
3.16.2006 2:23pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Under a comparative negligence analysis, that the victim was 100% responsible for the tort, so there can be no liability (I'm pretty sure California is a comparative negligence state).
3.16.2006 2:32pm
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
If the city fires the truck driver for negligently operating a city-owned vehicle, he will probably sue the city under some interpretation of the Civil Rights Act that forbids discrmination against persons who have been self-traumatized.
3.16.2006 2:37pm
AF:
I don't think comparative negligence is the issue. Both the city and the employee are 100% liable.
3.16.2006 2:57pm
Kovarsky (mail):
John,

The "victim" was not negligent. The "victim" is the truck driver in his individual capacity as vehicle-owner. There are two scenarios.

(1) The vehicle owner sues the truck driver in negligence (he sues himself). Somehow I don't think this is going to be the lawsuit the "victim" files.

(2) The vehicle owner sues the city - only question is whether respondeat superior applies. If yes, then the city has to pay him in his capacity as vehicle owner. Depending on state rules, it may seek some sort of contribution from the truck driver as truck driver, but the magnitude of that contribution will depend on state law. But the city will have to pay if respondeat superior applies.
3.16.2006 3:22pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
John, it's joint-several liability most likely, and he doesnt have to name any tortfeasor as defendant that he doesnt want to. He can just name the city, which is a completely separate entity.
3.16.2006 3:27pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Nobody is saying it was intentional.

I don't know that anyone has, but it is the possibility that someone in government employ might decide, under to destroy his own property under color of his government employment, and then sue the government, that makes the suit unreasonable.
3.16.2006 3:27pm
Hank:

Depending on state rules, it may seek some sort of contribution from the truck driver as truck driver, but the magnitude of that contribution will depend on state law.

"Some sort of contribution"? If the city has to pay him in his capacity as a private person, then can't it also sue him in his capacity as a employee to recover whatever it pays him as a private person? Respondeat superior makes the employer liable, but not necessarily ultimately liable, does it?
3.16.2006 3:34pm
JLR (mail) (www):
Re comparative negligence, the California Supreme Court in Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence. To the best of my knowledge, California still uses comparative negligence. (A commenter named Ted beat me to the punch about comparative negligence and Li at Orin's site).

Whether the man qua Lodi dump truck driver is 100% responsible, or whether (according to state law and/or city regulations) some governmental entity is also partially responsible, depends on the specific facts of the case, as well as the specific laws and precedents at issue.
------
It is important to note that, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel, "the city recently denied a $3,600 claim because Curtis Gokey [the dump truck driver] is a city employee and, in essence, filing a claim against himself, his wife said."

Thus, an even more interesting component to the story has arisen about Curtis Gokey's wife Rhonda Gokey:

Rhonda Gokey filed a larger claim [than her husband did], this one for almost $4,800.

"I'm not as nice as my husband is," she said. "I'm entitled to a replacement vehicle and insurance for the vehicle."

The second claim is pending at Lodi City Hall.

City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said the claim doesn't have merit, especially because Curtis Gokey admitted in the first claim that the accident is his fault.

There is no basis for Rhonda Gokey's claim, either, because she can't, in essence, sue her husband, Schwabauer said.

"You can sue your spouse for divorce, but you can't sue your spouse for negligence," Schwabauer said. "They're a married couple under California law. They're one entity. It's damage to community property."
3.16.2006 3:47pm
Wrigley:
I would sue the Truck in rem.

See, e.g., Kovarsky v. One City of Houston Bus With Damaged Side Panel
3.16.2006 3:48pm
Chris S.:
MDJD2B, that possibility doesn't necessarily make this particular suit unreasonable. I would suggest that if the act was intentional (and thus probably criminal), he's acting outside the scope.
3.16.2006 4:07pm
Opus (mail):
This reminds me of baseball's rule that even when a pitcher's own fielding error leads to a run, it still doesn't count towards his ERA.
3.16.2006 4:08pm
Dylanfa (mail) (www):
Can the city bring the driver/plaintiff in as a necessary defendant, or must it sue for indemnification after he wins judgment? Normally cities don't seek indemnification from their employees because they're judgment proof or it would cause bad morale/PR if they held them ultimately responsible, but in this case...
3.16.2006 4:15pm
lakjdsf:
Opus, I hate that baseball rule... (but similarly, the reason is that the run is not a run earned by the pitcher in his capacity as the pitcher (but in his capacity as a fielder))
3.16.2006 4:19pm
Tim Gleason (mail) (www):
No one has considered the possibility that the employee was not negligent, and the City was. It may appear to some unlikely from the stated facts, but the City could be solely liable for its own failure to properly maintain the truck, or the road.
3.16.2006 6:17pm
Starboard Attitude (mail):
Tim:

Or, to properly hire, train and supervise it's employee.
3.16.2006 8:08pm
Kovarsky (mail):
while we're talking about stupid e.r.a. rules in baseball, that rule is a distant second on the stupid-rules list to the prophylactic rule that all baserunners, including the batter (if someone is batting), at the time the pitcher leaves, are charged to the numerator.

Tim,

The city might well have been negligent, but that's a separate liability theory from respondeat superior. Interestingly, if the city was sued under that theory of negligence, rather than the respondeat superior theory, then they would probably have a better chance at securing contribution from the dude-as-trucker-guy.
3.16.2006 8:49pm
Kovarsky (mail):
"are charged to the numerator of the departing pitcher...."
3.16.2006 8:50pm
Ihmam (mail):
I am not sure what all the fuss is. This case is only the logical result of the legal regime imposed upon us by personal injury attorneys, juries and judges. Isn't this what we wanted?
3.16.2006 9:48pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
This is clearly a qualified immunity question. As usual, when working from a newspaper article, we don't have enough information. But, unless Gokey had diliberately violated the law (rather than just screwed up) the city is liable.

I also doubt that he can be fired over this (particularly if he is a union man).
3.16.2006 9:51pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Oh, but I agree with you, Eugene; this does take a lot of Chutzpah. :)
3.16.2006 11:14pm
Kovarsky (mail):
The case against this guy was dismissed. Now his wife is filing.
3.17.2006 1:27am
Geoffrey (mail):
While it does seem rather presumptuous to bring this suit, it seems in tune with the theoretical bases for respondeat superior liability, as I understand it. When an employer does business, certain economic injuries are caused from time to time as an inevitable result (e.g. industrial accidents). Under resp. sup., the employer mitigates the potential risk to the employee AND to the future injured parties by being forced to assume legal liability for these damages. The actions of the employee are done for the employer's benefit, so the employer pays for the damages that naturally occur.

So holding the City responsible for one's own actions (assuming they were not intentional) is consistent, because the City's liability is essentially as an insurer, not as a tortfeasor. Anyone else agree, or am I alone on this one?
3.17.2006 1:52am
Public_Defender:
The guy may have no choice. He might have to sue. If he filed a collision claim, his insurance company could exercise its right of subrogation to sue the city.
But on reflection, the problem is that if he crashed into someone else's vehicle, both he and the city would be liable, and the city could seek indemnification from him if it wanted.
Don't assume this to be true. Before law school, I once asked my state department of labor about employee liability for accidents (a fast food restaurant wanted <$20 from me for a glass light cover I broke during a summer job). They said employers could only demand reimbursement for willful or intentional damage.

That makes sense. Employees (especially government employees) generally don't share the upside possibility of greater rewards of they are more productive than anticipated. The employer/owner gets that as part of their risk premium. So why should employees have to pay (other than with job loss) when they do something that accidentally hurts the employer?

P.S. I refused to pay for the light cover. It was never taken out of my pay, but I had to write them two or three letters to get my last paycheck, which was for about the amount of the light cover. The next summer, I worked elsewhere.
3.17.2006 5:53am