Emergency vehicles are given special privileges and legal protections in Florida, specifically as outlined in F.S. 316.126. However, that does not mean that cities, municipalities or states (which generally own/ operate emergency vehicles as part of public service) are immune from liability when public servants are involved in collisions that result in injury. In fact, part of that statute specifically indicates, “This section does not diminish or enlarge any rules of evidence or liability in any case involving the operation of an emergency vehicle” and further, “does not relieve the driver of an emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”
Recently in a case out of West Virginia, the state supreme court there affirmed a trial court ruling in favor of a plaintiff, denying defendant a new trial in this personal injury lawsuit.
According to court records, a city police officer was assigned to work at a local high school. Shortly after arriving, he had to return home to attend to a homeowner emergency. After briefly meeting with a plumber, he left to return to work. While en route, he overheard a radio dispatch from another officer, in distress and pursuing a suspect on foot. The officer activated his lights and siren and traveled at a high rate of speed. Meanwhile, plaintiff pulled out from a parking lot into the same travel lane as the officer. The officer, traveling 65 mph, skidded more than 150 feet before rear-ending plaintiff. An investigating deputy sheriff testified that the skid marks and speed of the officer’s vehicle indicated plaintiff could not have seen the patrol car when he entered the roadway.
Plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the crash, and filed a civil lawsuit against the city, officer and others. The officer also suffered injuries, and he and his wife filed a counterclaim against plaintiff (which was eventually settled without trial by plaintiff’s insurer for a “nominal sum”).
Ultimately, plaintiff’s claim went to trial and jurors decided the case in his favor, awarding him damages of nearly $214,000. The court denied several of defendant’s post-trial motions and defendants appealed on a host of grounds, notably on jury instructions regarding duty to yield to an emergency vehicle and the standard of care of a police officer who is operating an emergency vehicle. Defendants argued there was no requirement that a motorist see an emergency vehicle’s lights or hear its sirens; However, the state supreme court, in affirming the trial court, ruled the defendants misinterpreted previous case law, which only placed the burden on the other motorist to produce sufficient evidence they did not see the flashing lights or hear the siren in order to yield the right-of-way as required.
The requirement that a motorist yield the right-of-way is contingent upon them having a reasonable opportunity to notice the emergency vehicle.
If you are injured in a crash with an emergency vehicle in Orlando, it’s imperative to contact an experienced injury lawyer right away in order to properly preserve evidence and pursue any possible claims.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Miller v. Allman, April 6, 2018, West Virginia Supreme Court
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