The United States has been dismissed as a defendant in a lawsuit initiated
by a woman who says she was severely injured when her vehicle was struck by a van operated by a member of the military who didn’t have permission to drive the government-owned vehicle at the time.
U.S. District Court Judge J.Curtis Joyner, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted a motion to dismiss that had been filed by government lawyers in a case brought by Crystal Pollard.
The plaintiff claimed she was injured on Nov. 23, 2011, when, while driving on Front Street toward Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia, she was struck by a General Services Administration van operated by Army Sgt. John Wold.
The lawsuit stated that Wold at the time was coming off of the Interstate 95 access ramp without properly looking out for other traffic, without having his vehicle under proper control, and without checking to make sure his vehicle had a clear distance to cross through the intersection.
The collision occurred at about 3:30 in the morning.
Records show that at the time of the accident Wold was on leave from his post at Fort Dix in New Jersey and was intending to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
He had been driving to Philadelphia International Airport at the time.
Court records show that Wold had been made aware of a governmental policy that limited use to General Services Administration vans by military members to “very specific cases.”
“In general, GMV’s may be used to transport official travelers; when service is necessary because of emergency situations; to meet security requirements, or when DOD scheduled bus service or public transportation is unresponsive and use of taxicab or other commercial service is not practical,” reads Fort Dix’s Joint Base Policy, which was referenced in the judge’s Jan. 8 memorandum and order.
An attachment to the policy states that travel to commercial terminals in general by military members is not an authorized use of the vans, according to the judicial ruling.
Wold was also governed by a Department of Defense regulation that says the use of all DOD motor vehicles shall be restricted to official purposes only.
In a sworn affidavit, Maj. Alfred C. Lenhard, II, Wold’s supervisor, asserted that Wold’s use of the van violated both the Joint Base Policy and the DOD regulation.
Lenhard also stated that the accident occurred outside of Wold’s working hours and was not within the scope of Wold’s duties.
In seeking dismissal, government lawyers contended that the plaintiff lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the vehicle accident occurred outside of the scope of Wold’s U.S. Army employment.
The plaintiff alleged in her complaint that the defendant violated the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides a limited waiver of the United States’ sovereign immunity.
In her response to the government’s motion to dismiss, Pollard, the plaintiff, admitted that she didn’t have any substantive evidence with which to rebut the scope-of-employment certification by Lenhard, the supervisor.
“The Plaintiff has clearly represented to the Court that she cannot bear her burden of proof of establishing the Court’s jurisdiction,” Joyner, the judge, wrote in his memorandum. “In contrast, Defendant United States of America has provided evidence that Sergeant Wold was using the GSA van contrary to governing base policy at the time of his accident with the Plaintiff.
“Accordingly,” Joyner continued, “the Court finds that Sergeant 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.”