Presidential Hit and Run? Obama Sued For Trashing Massachusetts Airport

Now this is an interesting lawsuit. In Massachusetts, Marlboro Airport wants payment of $676,048 for damage caused by “negligent” use of its facility, including unauthorized vehicles that tore up its field. The problem is that the culprit is the U.S. government. In 2010, President Barack Obama descended on the airport and brought with him a huge entourage, including a massive vehicles that were too heavy for the tarmac. After trashing the field, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security refused to compensate the company that runs the field.

The company, Marlborough Airport Properties Inc., has now sued. The complaint states that the Obama Administration assured them that there would be no such damage to the field when Obama came to inspect a new emergency bunker system. They were told that the Marine One helicopter would not cause damage. However, they did not mention a series of ground vehicles that would come along with the helicopter including but “not limited to, a ‘foam truck,’ which weighs approximately 44,000 pounds, [that were] negligently driven onto the airport and proximately caused property damage in an amount of $676,048.13.”

This may be the ultimate example of the “trust us we’re the government” line. The airport was assured the helicopter would not harm the field and just left out the 44,000 pound foam truck they intended to drop on the field.

The nice thing about tort cases with the President is that you almost always have video:

Update: My colleague and fellow torts teacher John Banzhaf sent me the following analysis of an alternative attack to avoid FTCA problems, which I am posting with his permission:

To avoid possible dismissal under the discretionary function exemption of the Federal Torts Claims Act for bringing the action as one in negligence, an alternative would have been to style the action as the intentional tort of trespass to chattels.

The government becomes “subject to liability” by doing an act with the intent to cause anything to go on the land of another, even if there were no damage.

The government’s defense to an action in trespass to chattels would be consent: the airport authority permitted them to come on the land.

However, that consent will be invalidated if it was caused by a mistake induced by the government, provided it is of a certain type:

RESTATEMENT OF TORTS 2ND § 892B: “a substantial mistake concerning the nature of the invasion of his interests, or the extent of the harm to be expected from it.”

Here the appears to be a clear mistake as to the extent of the harm expected from the landing.

Please also note that trespass to chattels is not among the many other intentional torts for which the government is not liable under the statute.

In any event, the government is liable for all intentional torts caused by “investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States”: a definition which probably includes the U.S. Secret Service, which may well be the agency which arranged for the trespass.


Source: Biz

28 thoughts on “Presidential Hit and Run? Obama Sued For Trashing Massachusetts Airport”

  1. OS,

    It’s good to see you posting. I’ve thought about you frequently over the last few days, my friend.

  2. Even a relatively light business jet such as the Cessna Citation needs anywhere from about 3,600 to 5,700 feet of runway, depending on weather, altitude, wing loading and make/model.

  3. LK,
    Nal did make an error on his earlier comment. That airport is not capable of handling heavy business class jets. The main runway is only 1659 ft. long by 45 ft.wide (506 m x 14 m), let alone being sturdy enough to handle an airplane weighing as much as one of the business class jets. There was a reason Obama used a helicopter instead of one of the smaller jets used for short hops as Air Force One.

    If a business jet tried to land there, the pilot and passengers would be picking sawdust and splinters out of their remaining teeth after plowing through the woods at the end of the runway.

  4. OS, Nal, tomdarch, thanks for all of the technical info brought to bear on this story, it’s really helpful in understanding what is going on. Nothing is a simple as you think it ought to be.

  5. pete,

    Either they repair the damage or perhaps close the runway. There can be no halfway measures. The funds are there in the Trust Fund, which is exactly what that fund was designed for when it was created. This airport is listed on navigation charts and approach plates as 9B1 (nine bravo one). It is part of the national airways system. As the airport manager pointed out in the little video, there have already been several airport closings in the area recently. There is a safety factor as well as convenience to the flying public. Make emergency landing strips too far apart and what do pilots do when the engine starts running rough or there are other inflight emergencies.

  6. OS

    putting that kind of weight on an already compromised pad couldn’t be good. add in a few mass. winters and a couple of tons of salt and soon instead of a concrete pad they’ve got a collection of semi flat rocks.

    i’d say the feds should pony up a percentage but not buy them a new runway. better not wait to to long though.

  7. tomdarch,

    from the video LK posted, that pavement was not in the greatest of shape to begin with so was already compromised. Note the airport information lists the paved areas as in “fair” condition. When considering the pavement repair, the amount wanted by the airport would cover repaving and not much more based on my experience at a couple of my favorite small town airports that had to have repaving done. Bad part is that some of the broken and cracked paving will have to be dug up and new underlayment put down. Building a runway or tarmac hardstand is a bit different than building a parking lot or roadway. The FAA has specifications that have to be followed in order for the runway to be certified for flight operations. If you want an airport to be listed on the charts as an airport for general or commercial use, it has to be certified.

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