It’s something many never consider, but is certainly a possibility: That an emergency vehicle on their way to the scene of an accident causes their own accident with civilian cars on the road. Traffic accidents involving emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks are rare, but they do happen. According to the National Safety Council, in 2018 there were 168 people fatally injured in accidents with emergency vehicles in the United States. More than half those victims where those inside the passenger vehicles involved. And it is likely that many more of these types of accidents occur each year but go unreported because victims are so unsure of how to proceed when it comes to this unique situation.
But if you believe negligence was involved in causing your emergency vehicle accident, you always have the option to fight. It’s true that holding these entities liable for damage is a strenuous process. But with the right car accident lawyer on your side, it’s never impossible.
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Determining Fault in An Emergency Vehicle Accident
Holding an emergency vehicle liable for causing a car crash can be a difficult endeavor for a variety of reasons. One of the most pressing lies in the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which prohibits citizens from filing a personal injury lawsuit against the government. This doctrine applies to most emergency vehicles because these types of vehicles are often owned, funded, or operate on behalf of government entities.
But just because these vehicles are backed by the government doesn’t mean they’re allowed to do whatever they want on the road. They are permitted to travel at high speeds and make certain maneuvers in an effort to get to their emergency destination as quickly as possible, but they must still follow certain safety requirements. Drivers are never automatically exempt from obeying local traffic laws. They can only disregard such laws if they are on their way to a dispatched emergency, and only if it is safe to do so. They cannot assume that all other cars around them will yield the right of way, and must operate as such. If an emergency vehicle causes an accident after violating any such law without justification for doing so, their employer may be held liable for any property damage or injuries they caused.
For example, say a police car is on its way to the scene of an emergency and needs to speed through a red light, but forgets to turn on their lights and sirens first. Without these warnings, other drivers at the intersection are unaware of the approaching vehicle and don’t give it the right of way. An accident occurs, caused by both vehicles going through the intersection at the same time. But in this instance, the police force could be held liable for damages because their driver failed to follow proper protocols for breaking a traffic law.
Rules of the Road for Emergency Vehicles
Each type of emergency vehicle operates under its own set of traffic rules when on the way to the scene of an emergency. Similarly, each type of vehicle has the potential to cause a variety of damage dependent upon their size, speed, location, and more. It’s important to be aware of what parameters may contribute to a crash with each type of vehicle.
Police Cars: If a police officer behaves negligently behind the wheel, they are bound by the same laws and rules of the road as civilians. Even during high-speed chases, officers are expected to prioritize public safety and avoid endangering civilians. But accidents can still happen. Police officers responding to emergencies use a variety of devices to prepare themselves for their duties and ensure they arrive at the correct destination quickly. Their cars are equipped with GPS devices, police scanners, laptops, and dispatch communication devices—all equipment that can cause distraction on the road and lead to serious accidents. But proving such distracted driving and subsequent negligence can be difficult. Police officers have strong legal teams, personal relationships with government officials, and the support of fellow officers.
Ambulances: These larger vehicles not only pose more risk for suffering an accident when speeding, but can cause more damage to the cars around them. And similar to police cars, if an ambulance has a patient in the back of their vehicle, they may be more prone to distracted driving. It’s also important to know that these ambulance patients have the same rights as the occupant who suffered an injury in a passenger vehicle.
Fire Trucks: As the largest of all emergency vehicles, fire trucks can do the most damage when involved in a crash. Something of this size traveling at high speeds can cause catastrophic injuries if drivers do not operate the vehicle correctly. As with other emergency vehicles, the driver is legally allowed to drive at high speeds, and motorists have a responsibility to move out of their way when they see approaching lights and sirens. But fire truck drivers can still be held liable for accidents if they are found to be driving while drowsy, under the influence, recklessly, if equipment comes loose from the vehicle, or the vehicle itself malfunctions.
What to Do After An Emergency Vehicle Accident
Being involved in any type of car accident is never pleasant. But it can be made even worse when it’s caused by the negligence of an emergency vehicle. That’s because the owners of these vehicles can often make the process of filing and collecting on a claim or lawsuit extremely difficult.
If you’re involved in such an accident, first it’s important to treat it as you would any other type of car accident. First, make sure you seek medical attention as necessary. Then if you are able, exchange and gather any information you can, such as the driver’s badge or identification number, the vehicle’s identification number, driver information, and their employer’s information. Finally, gather as much evidence as possible in relation to your accident. This includes taking photos of your injuries, your vehicle, the emergency vehicle, any other vehicles involved, and the surrounding area and driving conditions. You will also want to gather witness testimonies and keep record of all your medical bills and other damage bills. You will need all of these to make your case to the insurance companies and, quite possibly, the government entity that employs the emergency vehicle in question.
Even if you follow each of these crucial steps, most emergency vehicle accident claims don’t play out like your average car accident claim. That’s because these types of public services are often run by government agencies, requiring unique and complicated forms and procedures. They also operate under shorter filing deadlines. And proving negligence and liability can be difficult when the system is more inclined to support esteemed service members over “average” citizens.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for your right to compensation. If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by an emergency vehicle, The Whisler Law Firm can help. We’ll work with experts to gather evidence surrounding your accident, and use it to prove negligence was at play so you receive the compensation you deserve. Call our office at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to request a free consultation today.