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.