A Reminder About Fleet Liability

October 3, 2016

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At a recent conference hosted by the Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators (FLAGFA), Jim Juneau, a Texas-based attorney, talked about liability for fleets.

Liability is something that comes up fairly often, but a couple of tragic case studies reminded the audience of what it truly means.

In one case, a firefighter had come to a technician and asked him to disable the alarm that signaled that the fire truck’s generator was still on. There were instances when they wanted to keep the generator on and they didn’t want the annoying alarm. Fearing the firefighters would make it worse by disabling it themselves, the technician did as requested. This temporary accomodation was never fixed, despite numerous stops at the maintenance facility. After a series of unfortunate events, it led to the carbon monoxide death and permanent disability of two fire department employees.

Using an example like this one, Juneau warned fleet managers of the following things that could get fleets in legal trouble: Ignoring recognized national standards (and following only state or regional ones) and poor vehicle maintenance and inspection habits. And not only are public agencies responsible, but fleet managers and technicians can also be charged, he said.

Liability: Recalls, Shop Safety & Documentation

I’m not a lawyer, but I can think of various instances where fleets and fleet managers can be held liable for aspects of their jobs. Think of the recent onslaught of recalls and how fleets are managing them — and how difficult managing recalls may be if vehicles are dispersed throughout a large geographic area. Within the maintenance facility, safety comes to mind, including lift safety, fall protection devices, and training technicians on how to maintain new vehicle technologies. For drivers, fleet managers may have to think about driver records, driver policies, and driver monitoring technologies. And there are many stories about aging fleets — including first responder fleets — that are so old the vehicles are constantly out of service, leaving user departments with not enough vehicles or poorly maintained ones. These responsibilities fall on fleet management’s shoulders.

Additionally, it made me think of paperwork and documentation. What may seem a tiresome chore can become critical records to be used for (or against) you and your agency in a trial. At a recent trial where I served as juror, work orders from dealerships were used as evidence, and each line was meticulously reviewed by lawyers, complete with misspellings and incomprehensible sentences that had to be interpreted.

Get Technicians Involved

After coming out of the session on liability and negligence, my thought was that technicians should see a similar presentation. While it’s beneficial for a fleet manager to get this training, technicians are the last ones who see the vehicles. They’re the ones who decide whether a vehicle is safe and ready to go.

In 2009, an out-of-control fire truck from a major city plunged down a hilltop, killing a firefighter and damaging an apartment complex. The truck was deemed to have faulty brakes.

A competent technician would not knowingly let an unsafe vehicle back on the road. However, in Juneau’s example, simply cutting a wire to prevent potential additional damage from operators — which may have seemed reasonable at the time — led to tragic consequences.

Learning from the consequences of others’ actions can help technicians make better decisions. And providing a reminder of liability exposure, and potential consequences of negligence, can be helpful to both technicians and fleet managers.

What have you done to minimize your fleet’s liability?


  1. 1. Officer Rich Lee (Ret) [ November 14, 2016 @ 12:14PM ]

    Prior Fleet Manager for the San Francisco Police Department we never use after-market parts, always OEM specific to the vehicle. We monitor "recalls" closely to be current with repairs. We removed all "push bars" from the police vehicles for officer's safety. Some say they need them but in final we looked at the manufacturers' owners manual and it states that if we modify the front end we possibly may delay the deployment of the air bags. Another liability and expensive one to prove that push bars do not effect the deployment of air bags.

  2. 2. Kelly Reagan [ November 21, 2016 @ 01:28PM ]

    Excellent article Thi,
    This is why we have EVT training for technicians that work on our apparatus. We also have a strict QC sign off as recommended by NFPA Standards for all emergency responder repairs. Having solid decision makers on the floor as both qualified techs and supervision that carry EVT Certifications and Master Certifications gives the division of fleet the ability to place a rig out of service for any safety related issue, and make repairs. Fleet does not take its direction from fire fighters-we operate as an independent division and do NOT compromise when it comes to safety. While I can appreciate the earlier gentleman's response , after market parts typically do NOT play a role in failures as long as one ensures quality of after market parts, as we do in Columbus. Training can and will certainly reduce liability and ensures accountability in all vehicle repairs.
    Our technicians are responsible for all equipment going back into service in good working order, regardless of whether a fire fighter reports a problem. It is incumbent upon the division of fleet to always do a safety inspection both incoming and outgoing and make necessary repairs before releasing the unit back into service- ALWAYS!!
    This in fact reduces liability and ensures that our friends in Fire and Police have everything they need and expect in their complex equipment needs. Let's face it, fleet has to take repsonsibility for all vehicles under their umbrella of care. In doing this we are all safer, happier, better equipped to do our jobs and protect our taxpayers from needless liabilities.

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Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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