Throughout your career at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), you may be required to operate a government-owned vehicle (GOV) for official government business. In an effort to better inform its employees and protect them from uninsured liabilities, APHIS requested a legal opinion from the Office of General Counsel concerning an employee’s individual personal liability while operating a GOV. This guidance also covers situations where you may be driving a vehicle leased by the Government, or leased by you as an employee in travel status.
When operating a GOV, Federal employees are shielded from individual liability as long as they are “acting within the scope of their employment” at the time of the alleged negligent act. There is no distinction between an employee who operates a GOV during official travel status or an employee who operates a GOV to and from his place of residence on a daily basis. The only relevant analysis is whether the employee was acting within his/her scope of employment as defined by the laws of the jurisdiction where the accident took place. As these laws and their application vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it is impossible to provide absolute examples of what actions are deemed to be within the scope of employment and which are not. Therefore, there may be situations where a Federal employee is authorized to use a GOV, but is held personally liable for any alleged negligent act he/she commits. For that reason, you should consider consulting with your private insurance company to determine whether your current policy provides sufficient liability coverage for any accident that occurs while operating a GOV and is ultimately deemed as falling outside of the scope of your employment. If your policy is insufficient or it lacks such coverage, you may want to consider purchasing additional insurance to close this potential gap in liability coverage. The Federal government is prohibited from reimbursing you for such coverage.