We have been following the lawsuit against the FBI after an agent destroyed a $750,000 Ferrari on what was described as a joyride. FBI agent Fred Kingston was accused of taking out 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. This week the court agreed and dismissed the case — leaving the FBI with little deterrent for the negligent damage to private property. There has been no mention of any discipline for Kingston — beyond having to drive his own car. As for the prosecutor, his office prevailed in establishing a rule that even a joyride fits within the discretion of the government.
Thompson explained 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. Not only did the Administration insist that they are not responsible for such acts, they used privilege arguments to refuse to release any documents on the crash So, 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.
U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn recognized that the crash was “certainly unfortunate,” but held that the government cannot be sued for such damage. Motors Insurance insisted that this was nothing but a joyride in Lexington, Kentucky and Ferrari was not actually in custody because the insurer had granted permission for the government to hold the car. The judge however found that the car remained evidence and that the government is immune from liability.
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.
This is something Congress show explore and create an exception for negligence or at least gross negligence in the handling of private property — even evidence.