For FBI agent Fred Kingston, it was a sweet assignment. The FBI had seized a stolen 1995 Ferrari F50 — one of only 50 such cars in the United States. Kingston was instructed to move the car from the FBI garage and so Kingston reportedly called Assistant US Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson to come along for the ride. The agent ended up crashing the car — causing $750,000 but now the Justice Department insists that it is not liable for the damage.
The DOJ insists that it is not responsible for damage to stolen property. That is a pretty silly rule if the DOJ is negligent in the handling of property of citizens.
The owner is now suing the government for $750,000 in damages to the vehicle.
Thompson insists that “Just a few seconds after we left the parking lot, we went around a curve and the rear of the car began sliding” and ended up hitting a tree. The question, however, is why an agent would take along a friend to transport a $750,000 vehicle rather than arrange for a tow. If this were a $1 million painting, would they just mail it?
The DOJ further refuses to release any documents on the crash — using government privileges to conceal evidence of its own alleged negligence. It is a pretty sweet deal for agents. You can first invite friends for a spin in a rare car, then crash the car and then use government immunities and privileges to bar others from reviewing the evidence.
I fail to see the public policy value of a rule barring liability in the destruction of private property in such cases of alleged negligence. I understand the need to bar liability akin to a bailment for hire. However, if a party can show negligence or gross negligence, I do not see why the government should not compensate the party. Under the rule advanced by the DOJ, there is little deterrent for such conduct when the government can not only refuse to pay but refuse to disclose evidence of its own alleged misconduct.