In fall of 1989, an employee of the water department of the Town of Hempstead borrowed a city pick-up truck to drive it home. He had been allowed on several prior occasions to borrow the city truck to get home. He believed that it was OK for him to borrow it on this date to get home. On his way home, he was involved in an auto accident that resulted in serious personal injury. Following the truck accident, the injured party filed a lawsuit against the Water Department and the Town of Hempstead.
The Town of Hempstead countered that they do not feel that they should be held liable since the employee was not at work or engaged in any city business at the time of the accident. Further, he had not requested permission to borrow the truck on this date. The other times that he had been permitted to borrow the truck; he had asked for and received permission to do so. This was not the case on the night of this incident. In fact, the Staten Island employee’s job for the city did not require the use of a vehicle at all. The employee even testified that he had received specific instructions prior to the date of the accident not to take a truck home. He advised in testimony on several different occasions that no one had given him permission to use the truck on that night. He advised that he took it anyway because he needed to get home. The evidence that was presented in reference to the employee being told specifically that he could not take the truck home was not argued by either side. However, there were no prior violations by this employee or any other on file prior to the accident of the “no personal use” policy that had been implemented in the fall of 1989.
The Justices, however, ruled that since the employee had been allowed on prior occasions to use the truck, he would have believed that there was an inference of implied permission. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 (1) states that an owner of a motor vehicle is liable for the negligence of one who uses or operates the vehicle with the owner’s express or implied permission.
Because of this, the majority of the Westchester Justices ruled that the employee had discretion to use the vehicle and is liable to cover him in the accident.
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