Federal Workers Largely At Fault In Car Accidents

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Given how challenging it can be to file a claim against the federal and/or state government, one would hope that the need to do so would be relatively infrequent. However, new data from the Government Accountability Office, which tracks accidents involving federal workers and federal vehicles as a matter of course, shows that federal workers are largely at fault in car accidents.

Accident Data Exposes Liability and Fault

In the period between fiscal years 2008-2012, there were approximately 37,000 accidents involving vehicles leased by the government. The General Services Administration is the agency in charge of leasing vehicles for government use. Car accident fault was attributed to federal workers in almost 23,000 of those accidents—nearly 62% of the total number of accidents. “Largely at fault” may be a slight understatement.

All but around 2,000 of those accidents involved collisions with other vehicles. The balance of the 23,000 accidents involved running off the road, striking pedestrians or striking animals. Forty-nine fatalities and 1,466 injuries were reported with car accident fault attributable to the federal employee operating the vehicle.

All in all, those numbers are not shocking. In fact, considering the sheer number of miles federal vehicles traversed in the relevant time period (nearly 10 billion), 49 deaths is a particularly low amount.

Government Immunity and Accident Liability

When dealing with the federal government and car accident fault, fault and liability do not always go hand-in-hand. Private citizens suffering injury or property damage due to the fault of a federal employee’s negligence have mountains of red tape to deal with based upon the doctrine of governmental immunity, which provides the government some degree of protection from civil suits. However, an injured party can often surmount governmental immunity in the case of negligent acts.

The Hidden Costs to Taxpayers

In addition to the specter of civil liability attendant to car accident fault, there is the not-so-insignificant repair bill associated with 37,000 motor vehicle accidents. We all know that federal funds are distributed in arcane and inscrutable ways, and responsibility for the repair tab can depend upon car accident fault, the amount of damage, and the injuries involved. Individual agencies are often responsible for low-cost repairs, but as bills mount the Justice Department or other oversight agencies may pick up the tab.

Federal employees are overwhelmingly at-fault in the vast majority of car accidents involving the GSA lease fleet. That’s good news for private citizens, but bad news for taxpayers. No matter how you look at it, you’ve likely been contributing toward the cost of federal car accident fault for years.

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