In a recent opinion, Hardeman County v. McIntyre, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s award of damages to a driver injured when an ambulance collided into her while she was attempting to make a turn. At issue in the appellate court was whether the ambulance company had breached the standard of care applicable to emergency vehicles. In particular, Tennessee law, T.C.A. 55-8-108, exempts emergency responders from certain traffic laws when responding to emergency calls. Ambulance drivers may, for instance, proceed past a stop sign or red light, exceed speed limits, and disregard parking regulations, provided they do so with regard to the safety of others. The evidence admitted at trial showed that the ambulance had its sirens on and, at most, was exceeding the speed limit by fifteen miles per hour. In examining prior caselaw from Tennessee as well as other states, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence did not allow a finding of liability on the part of the Ambulance Service. Factors that the Court said would support such a verdict — such as substantially excessive speed, sharp, sudden lane changes, or, particularly, travelling without properly activating the emergency sirens were not present.
This appellate opinion demonstrates fairly clearly the legal and factual hurdles that are present in any action against an emergency responder. While as a society, I think we all want our emergency responders to be able to effectively respond to accidents, crimes, and threats, it is important that they do so in a prudent manner so as not to injure innocent bystanders. Several years ago, I successfully represented a family whose son had been unfortunately killed by a police officer involved in a high-speed chase. The young man who was killed was an innocent bystander, out running errands at the shopping mall, when the police officer drove his car at approximately 100 mph through the mall parking lot. It turned out that the reason for the high speed police chase was simply that the fleeing suspect had run a stop sign and not stopped for the police car’s sirens. That case was obviously a very different situation from the accident in the Hardeman case discussed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving emergency vehicles, you should be sure to speak to an attorney knowledgable and experienced in the area. If you have questions about potential claims arising from an accident, call the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC at (615) 975-7882, or use our online form. We serve clients in Nashville and throughout Tennessee.