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A Florida fleet farce of Broadway proportions

Date: 21 July 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

Here's an American tale involving a Toyota Prius, a county council spokesman and a male pedestrian dressed as a woman that would never happen in the UK.

Very amusing fleet story to come out of Florida recently, illustrating just what it means to live in the Land of the Free.

It started when this guy - a local county council spokesman - took his company Toyota Prius to Miami a couple of Christmases ago and made the mistake of hitting someone at a pedestrian crossing.

Unfortunate, but not fatal and easily sorted here in the UK, where our oft-criticised strait-jacketed system would have at least ensured that any bills would have been handled by the company insurance.

Not so in the USA. Over the course of two years, the case of pedestrian vs Prius has escalated into a farce of Broadway proportions.

Here if you get a company car, it's your car. Unlike a pool car, which isn't. But this county council, near Gainesville in Florida, didn't operate that kind of system. Cars only became 'take-home' cars at the nod of the supervisor, a guy called Reid.

So this spokesman, named Sexton, got the nod and used the Prius as if he owned it. Which is why he felt he could shoot off to Miami in it for Christmas.

Except when Sexton ran over this pedestrian, his take-home privileges became more widely known and then questioned. Why should he get this facility when others didn't? Who authorised it?

The reason his privileges became more widely known was, of course, because the pedestrian sued; despite the Miami police officer at the scene noting there were no injuries to report.

Meanwhile, the county council had decided Sexton wasn't entitled to be driving his company car at the time, so now they wouldn't be defending him in a court, whereupon Sexton sued his employers. Terrific entertainment, I think you'll agree. More so given that the male pedestrian was dressed as a woman at the time.

Right about this time, the local paper got hold of the story and, predictably, the whole ad-hoc nature of the take-home company car privileges sparked a debate about misuse of taxpayers' money, including this priceless letter from a certain Mrs Higgins: "Concerning this Mark Sexton bungle, I must say you all are more crooked than Boss Hogg on the Dukes of Hazzard."

That bit does remind me of the recent story involving the state-owned Remploy organisation and the "scandal of the sports-car perk" for the boss (a diesel Mercedes CLK), but the rest of this star-spangled shambles simply couldn't happen in the UK. The awful paperwork we have to endure to make sure taxes are scrupulously calculated and paid does at least paint over any such grey areas. Over here Boss Hogg went straight after discovering CO2-based taxation was much more lucrative.