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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Uncle Sam Off the Hook for Sergeant’s Car Crash

(CN) - A soldier who caused a crash while illegally driving a government van to the airport did not open the United States to negligence liability, a federal judge ruled.

The accident occurred while Sgt. John Wold was driving a General Services Administration (GSA) van from Fort Dix, N.J., to the Philadelphia International Airport on Nov. 23, 2011.

As Wold entered the Interstate 95 ramp at about 3:30 a.m., he allegedly failed to look out for other traffic, control his vehicle, or turn on his headlights.

Crystal Pollard says the van collided with her car at the intersection of a city street and the access ramp, causing her severe and permanent injuries.

Wold claimed that he was on leave from his posting at the time, intending to go home to Oregon for the Thanksgiving holiday.

After Pollard sued Philadelphia and the federal government, Wold's supervisor, Major Alfred Lenhard II, signed a declaration that said the sergeant's use of the government van on the day of the accident violated both the joint base policy of Fort Dix and the regulations of the Department of Defense and Army.

The base policy restricts the use of government motor vehicles for travel to or from military or commercial terminals to "very specific cases."

Those include "emergency situations; to meet security requirements; or when [Department of Defense] DOD scheduled bus service or public transportation is unresponsive and use of taxicab or other commercial service is not practical," according to the policy.

Lehnard said Wold and other Fort Dix personnel received the policy in July 2011.

The major further claimed that the accident occurred outside of both Wold's established working hours and the scope of his duties.

U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner dismissed the suit against the feds last week.

"The United States argues that '[w]hen Sgt. Wold was driving the GSA van and collided with Ms. Pollard's minivan, he was on leave and was using the van, contrary to then-controlling base policy and regulations, for his personal, non-authorized, prohibited use (transportation from Ft. Dix to Philadelphia International Airport en route to Oregon for Thanksgiving break)," Joyner wrote (parentheses in original). "The plaintiff has admitted to the court that she 'does not have any substantive evidence within [sic] which to rebut this scope-of-employment certification of Major A. Lenhard' and thus 'cannot provide the court with a rebuttable presumption concerning said issue as to scope of employment.' The plaintiff has clearly represented to the court that she cannot bear her burden of proof of establishing the court's jurisdiction. In contrast, defendant United States of America has provided evidence that Sgt. Wold was using the GSA van contrary to governing base policy at the time of his accident with the plaintiff. Accordingly, the court finds that Sgt. Wold was acting outside of the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and dismisses the claims against defendant United States of America for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction."

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