Normally when a person thinks of an emergency vehicle, such as a fire truck, ambulance, or police car, he or she thinks of the different ways in which these emergency personal can help people in the time of a crises. However, these emergency vehicles do cause crashes and at a rate higher than a person would expect. These emergency vehicles are usually in a rush to another car crash, injury, or crime and forget that they have certain duties to other drivers on the road as well. From 1991 to 2000, the most recent years for which data is available, 300 fatal crashes occurred involving ambulances, resulting in the deaths of 82 ambulance occupants and 275 occupants of other vehicles and pedestrians. The 300 crashes involved a total of 816 ambulance occupants. Statistics also show that motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for on-duty firefighters. Fire truck crashes, occurring at a rate of approximately 30,000 per year, have potentially dire consequences for the vehicle occupants and for the community if the fire truck was traveling to provide emergency services. Due to the sheer size of the ambulance, fire truck, or other emergency vehicles, the injuries sustained from such a collision can be catastrophic. Louisiana law provides different duties for emergency vehicles if certain criteria have been met. Because of the complicated legal issues that arise when dealing with these types of crashes, it is important to have an experienced Louisiana personal injury lawyer on your side to know how to handle such a crash.
Louisiana Revised Statute 32:24 holds the key to what duties emergency vehicles have and when they apply. It provides:
A. The driver or rider of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to, but not upon returning from, a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.
B. The driver or rider of an authorized emergency vehicle may do any of the following: (1) Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this Chapter. (2) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down or stopping as may be necessary for safe operation. (3) Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property. (4) Disregard regulations governing the direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
C. The exceptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when such vehicle or bicycle is making use of audible or visual signals, including the use of a peace officer cycle rider’s whistle, sufficient to warn motorists of their approach, except that a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a red light visible from in front of the vehicle.
D. The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver or rider of an authorized vehicle from the duty to drive or ride with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver or rider from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.
As explained in Griffin v. City of Monroe, the Emergency-vehicle statute provides two alternate standards of care for the drivers of emergency vehicles; the reckless-disregard standard applies if and only if the driver’s actions meet certain enumerated criteria, and if the criteria are not met, then the driver will be held to the standard of due care. The reckless-disregard standard only applies when an authorized emergency vehicle is responding to an emergency call or in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or responding to a fire alarm if and only if when such vehicle or bicycle is making use of audible or visual signals. The next two cases illustrate how the duties arise and when immunity for the emergency vehicles will be granted.
The Second Circuit in Slone v. Greber & City of Shreveport Police Dept. is a case where the statutorily granted immunity protected the emergency vehicle driver from being held liable. The facts of the case show that the victim and a police officer were involved in a two-vehicle collision. The accident occurred as the victim proceeded through a green light in her lane of travel and struck the rear passenger side of the police vehicle as it traveled through the intersection with lights activated in response to an emergency call. The trial court granted the officer statutory immunity under La. R.S. 32:24 and rejected the victim’s claim for damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court held that the police officer was an emergency vehicle driver responding to an emergency call. The emergency dealt with a crime in south Shreveport. Accordingly, under Subsection B, the police officer was allowed to exceed the speed limit and to proceed through a red light signal, but only after slowing down or stopping as may be necessary for safe operation of the vehicle. Under Subsection C, the police officer was charged to utilize his audible or visual signals sufficient to warn motorists of his approach through the intersection against the red light. The Court of Appeals held that the emergency driver was not negligent and could not be held liable because he complied with the special duties of the Statute, slowing reasonably and giving sufficient warning to the victim.
Another case that arose in the Second Circuit shows how the statute did not provide immunity for an emergency vehicle driver. In Neloms v. Empire Fire & Marine Ins. a motorist brought a personal injury action against an ambulance service because her vehicle was struck by one at an intersection. The trial court rendered the ambulance driver to be 100% at fault. The facts show that the victim had a green light at an intersection and proceeded to go through it when the ambulance did not stop at the intersection and plowed into the other car. The trial judge found that the ambulance driver was not using the vehicle’s siren at the time of the crash even though she ‘may’ have been using the warning lights. The significant collision between the vehicles indicated that the ambulance driver did not stop or slow down when she went through the intersection and that she had to have been traveling at a much greater speed than 3-5 miles per hour to which she testified. La. R.S. 32:24(c) requires an emergency vehicle driver to use lights and/or sirens ‘sufficient to warn motorists of their approach’ and the trial judge concluded that the use of warning lights alone was insufficient. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling and held the ambulance driver’s action did not follow La. R.S. 32:24; and thus, her actions violated the ordinary standard of due care.
These two cases show that to be successful in crashes involving emergency vehicles the victim needs a law firm that has experience and the resources necessary to complete the required research. With close to 40 years of experience, it is proven that Mr. Cardone has seen it all and has provided excellent outcomes for his clients. With his background experience as a trial attorney for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office, Mr. Cardone is not afraid to go to trial for the rightful compensation each victim is owed. Mr. Cardone is revered around the State of Louisiana by his colleagues, and he is proud of receiving a peer reviewed AV-rating from Martindale-Hubbell. This type of rating is a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him at the highest level of professional excellence. Since 1997, Cliff has sat as a Judge, Ad Hoc, in Juvenile Court, Traffic Court, as well as Municipal Court in New Orleans. As such, he has a broad range of experience and is fully capable of handling a variety of legal cases. The Cardone Law Firm has successfully managed all types of personal injury cases, including but not limited to: car accidents, trucking accidents, wrongful death and survival cases, medical malpractice claims, nursing home negligence cases, and DUI/DWIs. If you, a loved one, or a friend has suffered any type of injury due to the fault of another, Mr. Cardone and his professional legal assistants at the Cardone Law Firm can help. With an office located in New Orleans, the Cardone Law Firm is able to serve clients statewide. Phone Cardone now for effective legal assistance at 1-888-892-2736 or 504-522-3333 as well as a free in person consultation concerning your case.