Q: I just received notice that the Army is trying to charge me money for a government vehicle I wrecked last month. Can they make me pay?
A: If you ever lose your assigned equipment or damage a government vehicle, you’ll learn that the government, like everyone else, wants to be paid back for money or property that is lost. Financial Liability Investigations of Property Loss are the Army’s method of attributing financial responsibility for the loss, damage, or destruction of government property.
Anytime the Army wants a service member or an employee to pay for damage done to government property, it will likely use the FLIPL process. It is therefore very important to understand your rights, should you ever find yourself in the FLIPL crosshairs.
Before recommending that you be held liable, a financial liability officer must first confirm:
• You had a duty or responsibility to take care of some government property
• You failed to carry out that duty by doing something negligent
• Your negligence was cause of the loss to the government
A person can only be held liable if they had some type of responsibility to care for the government property. That responsibility can result from being assigned the property on a hand receipt or can come from something as simple as borrowing someone else’s equipment and using it. It can also result when you are a supervisor charged with making sure subordinates properly care for their equipment.
Next, the Army must show that you are culpable. Culpability means that your actions or absence of care violated your responsibility or resulted in your failure to carry out your duty. If you had a duty to take care of government property and you violated it, the government will then determine if your violation caused a loss.
Even if you violated a duty, it still doesn’t mean that you are going to be held liable. Imagine a situation where someone is driving recklessly for a short amount of time, stops, and then is hit by another automobile through no fault of their own. In that situation, the driver violated his duty to drive cautiously, but that violation is not what caused the accident. In order to hold you liable, the government must show that your actions or lack of care is what caused the loss.
The final thing that the government must prove is that there was a loss. If nothing is actually damaged, there is nothing that needs to be paid back.
Without meeting all of these requirements, the government cannot make you pay.
If you receive notice that you have been identified as the subject of a FLIPL, it is crucially important that you exercise your right to seek legal assistance. A legal assistance attorney will be able to help you draft a rebuttal to the financial liability officer’s recommendation and ensure that the investigation was performed properly. Once you are notified that a FLO has recommended that you be held liable, you only have seven calendar days to respond. It is important to call your local legal assistance office as soon as possible and let them know you have a short suspense so they can help ensure that your rights are protected.
Editor’s note: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. You should always consult an attorney for specific legal questions.