“I think I can safely say this is a very unusual claim,” said Shari Moore, the city clerk of St. Paul, Minnesota. Moore was talking about Megan Campbell’s claim against the city for damage to her car caused when a city vehicle crashed into it. Driving that city vehicle: Megan Campbell.
It is safe to say that such a claim is unusual, although it is not unique. See “Man Seeks Damages for Damage Caused by Man,” Lowering the Bar (Mar. 16, 2006).
Yes, it seems like only yesterday, but was in fact over eight years ago (!), that first Curtis and then Rhonda Gokey demanded $3,600 from Lodi, California, after a city employee negligently backed a dump truck into their car. Curtis was undeterred by the fact that he was the city employee who had been driving the dump truck at the time. Not only was Rhonda undeterred by that, she later filed a claim of her own after his was denied. (The city did not pay either one.)
Nor is St. Paul likely to pay Campbell’s claim, which officials say they are currently “reviewing.” But “a number of initial concerns stand out,” the report notes, not least of which is the concern that Campbell is the one who caused the damage.
Why should Campbell also be compensated for it? As she explained in her claim form, filed earlier this week, “Because I was working for the city and driving the city vehicle, I feel they are responsible for paying for the damage done to my car.” Let us break this statement down a little.
First, who might “they” be? At first glance it looks like the city and its vehicle conspired to cause the harm, but that’s probably not what she means. More likely it is an abstract “they” meant to refer to “city government officials” collectively. That is, her employers. Of course, it could be “they” the taxpayers, a group that the city officials represent, the group that would ultimately be paying for this, and of course a group of which Campbell herself is presumably a member. So as I argued in the Gokey case, in a sense Campbell is suing herself here (although she wants everyone else to chip in on the damages).
Second, of course, here we have a classic and probably instinctive use of the passive voice to obscure responsibility. Who did the damage? Was it they? The sentence doesn’t exactly blame they. Well, you know what? It really isn’t important who did the damage. What matters is that the damage was done. Let’s just compensate the victim and let the healing begin.
Another concern they have is that the van Campbell was driving when she managed to hit her own car had been rented, and neither she nor the rental agency reported any damage to the van that day. Sometimes one vehicle inexplicably suffers no damage in a crash, though. That does happen. Or so they say.