Getting into a car accident is bad enough. But what happens if you get caught up in a crash with an emergency vehicle like a police car, ambulance, paramedics truck, or fire truck? The scenario may sound out of the ordinary, but emergency vehicle accidents are all too common.
Even though emergency vehicles make up a small percentage of the total number of cars on the road, the circumstances around them make them naturally more dangerous.
- Police car chases involve reckless driving and high speeds through neighborhoods.
- Emergency responders must rely on other drivers to cooperate while they break traffic rules or cross busy intersections against the flow of traffic.
- Responders are more likely to drive distracted in an emergency, especially if there’s an injured patient being treated in the back of the vehicle.
You may be an innocent bystander who gets caught up in an emergency vehicle accident. But even then, you could be held at fault under the law. That’s because emergency responders get a certain level of qualified immunity when they’re operating on duty.
So what are your rights if you crash into an emergency vehicle? Can you recover damages if you get injured in an accident with an emergency vehicle?
The answer depends on the unique facts of your situation. While emergency responders enjoy a certain level of immunity, that immunity is not absolute. The best action is to talk to a personal injury lawyer who can help you understand your legal options.
What Is the Most Common Type of Emergency Vehicle Collision?
Compared to police cars, paramedics trucks, and fire trucks, ambulances are the most likely to crash, particularly when they’re transporting patients with their sirens on.
EMS responders are often overworked on long shifts. An ambulance is a sizable truck that’s not easy to maneuver. When tensions run high, even the best-trained responders make mistakes. The risks get even higher during extreme weather events when roads are flooded or iced over – ironically, this is also when ambulances are most likely to be out responding to calls.
- The National Highway Transit Safety Authority recorded an average of 4,500 crashes involving ambulances each year between 1992-2011.
- 34% of ambulance crashes during that time resulted in injuries, for a total of 1,500 injury-causing accidents and 2,600 injury victims on average per year.
- An average of 29 fatal ambulance accidents were recorded with an average of 33 fatalities each year between 1992-2011. This number includes vehicle occupants and others on the road, such as cyclists and pedestrians.
- During this 20-year period, 63% of ambulance crash fatalities were the occupants of other vehicles. Ambulance passengers made up 21% of fatalities, while non-occupants made up 12% and ambulance drivers totaled 4% of all fatalities.
- During that time, 54% of those injured were occupants of other vehicles, 29% suffered by ambulance passengers, and 17% by ambulance drivers.
- Almost 60% of all ambulance crashes that resulted in injuries or fatalities happened while the vehicles were being used in emergency mode.
But ambulances aren’t the only dangerous emergency vehicles out there.
- Between 1996 and 2015, an average of 355 people were killed each year (about 1 per day) in crashes related to police car pursuits.
- During that time, California recorded 827 fatalities related to police pursuit crashes. 39 of those who passed away were not occupants of any of the vehicles involved.
- A 2019 report found that 23% of the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) police pursuits resulted in a collision. Out of those collisions, 33% resulted in injuries and another 1.4% were fatal, resulting in a total of 35 deaths that year. 40% of fatalities were innocent bystanders who were completely uninvolved in the pursuit.
Even though emergency responders are technically just doing their jobs, crashes involving emergency vehicles can leave a trail of injured victims in their wake. So what can you do if you get caught up in an accident involving an emergency vehicle?
What Happens If an Emergency Vehicle Hits You in California?
California, like other states, prioritizes emergency vehicles like ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and paramedics trucks over others on the road. When an emergency vehicle has activated its siren and emergency lights, other vehicles must get out of the way.
For example, if another car runs a red light and causes a collision, that driver would be responsible for any injuries or damages that result from the crash because of their negligence. But if an ambulance runs a red light in an emergency and crashes into you, the operator may be immune from legal responsibility. You may not be able to sue.
Meanwhile, police officers in California get legal immunity for their actions while on duty, even if their actions are negligent or reckless. California law also gives police officers blanket pursuit immunity for any accidents caused during pursuits.
However, this qualified immunity has some limits depending on the circumstances.
Emergency responders must conduct themselves with a standard of care that includes considering the safety of others. This legal standard may change based on local laws or even whether an ambulance is on the way to or from picking up a patient.
- Ambulance or EMS vehicle operators could be held responsible for injuries or damages if they caused a crash while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or if they failed to turn on their emergency lights when they should have.
- Police officers could be held responsible for injuries and damages if they cause a crash while they’re off duty, engaging in a private matter, or acting against orders.
If you can hold the driver responsible for a crash, you can also extend that legal responsibility to the driver’s employer. After all, employers are vicariously liable for the actions of their workers while they’re on the job. The process of suing an EMS service will change depending on whether the ambulance was operated by a private company or the government.
The best way to know if you have a case is to talk to a personal injury lawyer who can help. Click here to contact the experienced team of attorneys at Sepulveda Law now for your free consultation. You don’t pay us until we recover damages for you.