Concerns About Liability Prompt Hartford to Reduce Take-Home City Vehicles

Oct 2013

Hartford provides city vehicles to certain employees, but has significantly decreased the number of take-home vehicles in recent weeks after several high-profile accidents. In March, there were 73 vehicles used by city employees, but the Courant reports this number has been reduced to 45 and may decline further.

The mayor cited financial issues for cutting back on the number of take-home city vehicles given to police officers and general government employees. But there is also another reason for scaling back the fleet: concerns about the city’s liability. Auto accident lawyers in Hartford know special rules apply to suing the government after an auto accident, but that there are circumstances under which the city could be liable for employee crashes.

Accidents in City Vehicles Raise Calls for Change

Drivers in take-home city vehicles are not permitted to allow others to drive their cars and are not supposed to use the vehicles for personal use. Many employees, however, have been violating these rules.

The mayor’s chief of staff, for example, was caught using a city vehicle without permission and was charged with interfering with police. The city’s deputy public works director was charged with drunk driving after she totaled a city-issued car and injured another driver in an accident. The Courant also reported on an accident involving the city’s corporation counselor and acting chief operating officer. This accident was the fault of another motorist, but the city-issued vehicle was damaged and the car was being driven by the city employee’s fiancé when the accident occurred at 2:17 a.m. While the driver was another city employee, his operation of the vehicle still violated policies stipulating that “commuter” cars are supposed to be driven only by the assigned employee and only during normal duty hours.

What if an Accident Occurs in a City Vehicle?

With so many recent incidents in city-issued take-home cars, it is easy to understand why the mayor has taken action to significantly reduce the number of vehicles that city employees are permitted to take home.

When a crash happens in a city-issued car, it is possible that the victim of the accident could pursue a claim against the city for the crash damages. Car insurance generally follows the vehicle, not the individual driver of the car, so the city’s insurer could be on the hook for car accident damages simply because the city owns  and insures the cars.

City employees can also be viewed as agents of the government, which would mean that the negligence of an employee in causing a car accident could be seen as the equivalent of the government itself being negligent.  This argument would not always be a valid one for holding the government responsible for an accident, though, because if the employee was violating policy and using the vehicle for personal use, then he or she would not be acting on behalf of the government and agency rules may not apply.

The complications associated with city ownership of take-home vehicles coupled with special rules that exist providing limited governmental immunity mean that anyone injured in a crash with a vehicle owned by a government agency should consult with an attorney for advice on how to best make a claim for compensation.

Auto accident lawyers in Hartford can help. Contact the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone & Morelli by calling  1-800-WIN-WIN-1.

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