Court Allows Suit Against U.S. Stemming From Marine’s Deadly Car Accident to Move Forward – Rodriguez-Rivera v. U.S.

A person suing for damages related to a Florida car accident must consider a wide variety of legal issues when preparing to file the complaint. Those issues get a bit more complicated when the party at fault for the accident is the United States government. As the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently explained in Rodriguez-Rivera v. U.S., the Federal Tort Claims Act allows a person to sue Uncle Sam for the negligence of his employees.

Pedro Rivera Amador was killed in a car accident near Tampa when the vehicle he was driving was struck head on by a car driven by Marine Corps Captain Scott P. Sciple, who was traveling in the wrong direction on I-275 at the time of the crash. Sciple had recently been deployed to MacDill Airforce Base and had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcohol abuse as a result of injuries sustained during multiple stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Sciple said he had no recollection of drinking that night – nor how he wound up traveling in the wrong direction on the interstate – tests conducted at the scene of the crash showed that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

Carmen Rodriguez-Rivera, Rivera Amador’s wife, was also injured in the accident. She later filed suit against the United States, alleging a number of negligence claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The statute provides that the federal government can be held liable for personal injury caused by the negligence of an employee acting within the scope of his or her employment.

The district court rejected the U.S.’s argument that the claims should be dismissed because Sciple was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, finding that it was too early in the litigation to make this determination.

Although the question was jurisdictional – the court would not have jurisdiction over Rodriguez-Rivera’s claims if it found that Sciple was not acting within the scope of employment – the court explained that the issue was also “intertwined” with the merits of the negligence claims. As a result, it was necessary to allow the parties to conduct discovery and present a full record before the court could rule on this issue.

Nevertheless, the court agreed with the government that Rodriguez-Rivera’s claims for negligent training and supervision were ripe for dismissal. In these claims, she alleged that the U.S. knew or should have known about Sciple’s PTSD and related conditions and negligently determined him to be “fit for duty,” allowing him to rent a car and ordering him to be deployed to Tampa.

“[D]ecisions related to the military’s conclusion that a soldier is fit for duty are clearly grounded in public policy,” the court said, and are thus removed from scrutiny under the FTCA because they include a “discretionary function” of the U.S. government. As a result, the court dismissed the failure to train and supervise claims.

If you have been injured in a car accident in Florida, it is important to consult an experienced attorney to ensure the strongest possible legal representation in the event a lawsuit goes to trial. The South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Pompano Beach, Hialeah and Hollywood. Call the Fort Lauderdale office today at 800-747-3733.

Related blog posts:

Valet Service Not Liable for Florida Drunk Driving Accident – Weber v. Marino Parking Systems, Inc.

Comparative Negligence Evidence in Florida Car Accident Cases – Lenhart v. Basora

“Claim Splitting” in Florida Car Accident Cases – Robbins v. General Motors de Mexico