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Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles

Accidents involving emergency vehicles are complex, especially when an injury is involved. State and municipal governments permit individuals to file claims for property damage or personal injury caused by the neglect of a government employee who was acting within the scope of his or her official capacity of employment.

Drivers of all police, fire, and other emergency vehicles must drive carefully (“exercise due care”) in the operation of their vehicle so as not to cause injury or death to persons or damage to property. If the driver of a public vehicle is negligent, the public entity that employs him or her can be held liable for all of the resulting damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering of the victims.

The employees themselves are immune to all damages resulting from an accident that occurred while responding to an emergency, engaging in rescue operations, or pursuing a suspected lawbreaker. However, drivers must still observe reasonable care to immunize the public entity that employs them.

And employees can be held liable for negligence when returning from an emergency, or situations that don’t constitute an emergency. For example:

  • The driver of a fire engine responding to an emergency call with its lights and sirens on generally cannot be held liable for injuries resulting from accidents with other vehicles or pedestrians.
  • If the driver was negligent, however, the fire department itself may be held liable.
  • Both the driver and the fire department can be held liable for injuries and deaths resulting from negligence while returning to the fire station following the emergency.

Suppose you are injured or a loved one killed when hit by a vehicle that a law enforcement vehicle is pursuing at a high rate of speed. Can you sue the law enforcement agency for your injuries or the death of a loved one?

That depends on whether the law enforcement agency has adopted, publicized, and properly trained its officers in a proper vehicle pursuit policy. If they have, the peace officers and their public entity employer generally are not liable for the injuries, death, or damage that may result from pursuing a fleeing vehicle.

If you have been injured by an emergency vehicle that is owned and operated by a public or governmental entity, you must file a claim with the appropriate public agency based on the laws and statutes within that jurisdiction – for example, the city’s or state’s regulations. Most have strict statutes of limitations that require the claim to be filed within 6 months of the accident (or less), or you will forever lose your right to sue the public entity and/or its employees.

Some emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, are owned and operated by private companies. If you are injured in an accident with a private ambulance in which the ambulance driver was at fault, you may file suit against the ambulance company, and the driver, depending on the circumstances. Such suits would be ordinary civil suits, and not be limited by any form of governmental immunity.

The law involving injuries or death arising from accidents involving emergency vehicles can be complex, and it is therefore critical that you contact a personal injury law firm with experience handling such claims.