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Federal Tort Claims Act: Court Rejects $45 Million Fender Bender

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

David Furry and Diane Nye claim that Ronald Williams — a substitute USPS letter carrier — hit their station wagon with his postal truck, causing “substantial injuries.”

Williams claims that he doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and that the contact between the two vehicles can only be explained as “mystical.”

Turns out that’s a valid defense under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Not really, but kind of.

Let's re-create the scene of the collision. Or mystical contact. However you want to describe it.

Furry and Nye were driving down the road with their daughter. Williams -- who had departed from his postal route to visit a friend -- was parallel parked on the street with the front of his truck sticking out. As Furry's wagon passed Williams' truck, the two vehicles collided. It was raining heavily at the time, and visibility was limited. Furry and Nye didn't see the truck before the impact, or actually see the collision.

Furry and Nye asked Williams to use his phone to call the police. They claim Williams freaked out about how he was going to get fired, and left the scene -- without calling the cops -- to finish delivering his mail. Officer James Tadrowski eventually met Furry and Nye to file a report, but he didn't take paint scrapings or photographs of the vehicles. When Tadrowski questioned Williams, he denied involvement and claimed he had never seen Furry or Nye. (Williams, incidentally, resigned from USPS the following day.)

Furry and Nye sued the U.S. under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) after exhausting their administrative remedies. They claimed Williams' negligence cost them $45 million in damages.

But there was a problem. Other than the $45 million. The district court concluded that they lacked evidence.

Furry and Nye didn't see what happened. Williams claimed that his truck was stationery, and mystically made contact with the back end of Furry's car.

The plaintiffs only presented speculation as to what caused the collision, and the Seventh Circuit didn't buy their argument that Williams' testimony was "so incredible" that it proved their version of the events.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that "faced with the lack of evidence to either support the appellants' beliefs or discount alternate explanations not associated with Williams' breach of ordinary care," the district court didn't err in finding the Nye and Furry failed to meet their burden of proof.

Does that mean that mysticism is a defense in every FTCA negligence claim? Absolutely not. Here, the district court could have made a determination regarding Williams' credibility if the plaintiffs had asked the court to compel Williams to attend the trial than relying on his deposition.

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