“What were they thinking?”
We often ask ourselves this question when we learn of an accident involving an emergency vehicle, such as when a police officer hits another vehicle or a pedestrian, or when a driver fails to yield to an emergency vehicle and causes an accident.
Car accidents involving emergency vehicles are more common than people think, many of which go unreported in the media. So what are your options if you’ve been involved in an accident involving an emergency vehicle?
In general, it’s difficult to sue the government — whether its municipal, county, or federal agencies, but it sometimes can be done. Governments have protection from lawsuits under a concept known as “immunity,” which restricts people involved in car accidents with emergency vehicles from taking the same actions as they would with a civilian driver or insurance company, even in the case of personal injury.
For example, when you’re involved in a car accident with another person, you have the right to sue the person, the insurance company, or the business responsible for your injuries or damages to your vehicle. This includes medical expenses, loss of wages, property damages, and other potential losses. When you get in a car accident with a police officer, ambulance, fire truck, mail truck, a repair vehicle, however, you may be stuck with the bill, even if the accident wasn’t your fault.
Texas Tort Law
Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, sovereign immunity defines that “state and political political subdivisions” cannot be held liable for torts for their agents or officers while they’re involved in a governmental function.
Specifically, public officials and public servants are immune from liability when:
- They are performing a duty within their scope of duties; and
- They are performing a discretionary duty; and
- They act in good faith
These guidelines, which absolve governments of liability, are broad enough to cover a large range of accident scenarios, which is why it can be extremely hard to sue the government.
Emergency Vehicle Accident Statistics
Nationally, accidents involving emergency vehicles are more common than people think, and they’re more dangerous. Vehicle fatality rates for emergency responders are more than four times higher the national average, and statistics show that most of these accidents occur at intersections or near driveways. Emergency vehicles usually travel at a high rate of speed, thus causing more severe injuries or damage when they’re involved in an accident.
According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
- From 1999 to 2011, there were an estimated 4,500 accidents involving ambulances each year.
- On average, 2,600 people are injured in 1,500 ambulance accidents each year.
- Nearly 60% of ambulance accidents occur during the course of emergency use.
- From 2000 to 2009, there were roughly 31,600 accidents involving fire vehicles.
- About 70% of all firetruck accidents occurred while in emergency use.
When it comes to accidents involving police vehicles, a recent NBC 5 investigation found that many Texas police departments don’t follow their own guidelines when it comes to warning about distracted driving, and that crashes involving distractions inside police vehicles occur frequently throughout the state.
New technology such as smartphones, dashboard-mounted computers, and on-board cameras, provide a host of new distractions for police officers while they’re on the road. In the NBC 5 investigation, reporters found that there were at least 70 crashes in two years involving police vehicles where some type of distraction inside the vehicle contributed to the wreck. One of those reports involved a Tarrant County sheriff deputy who ran a red light, injuring a woman in an SUV, while he was reading a message on a computer.
Filing a Claim Against the Government
While the government is generally well protected from liability in these types of accidents, there are still exceptions that allow people to sue them.
If you’re seeking compensation from a governmental entity for damages caused by one of its employees involving an emergency vehicle, you will have to deal with the governmental department itself directly by filing an administrative claim, and you’ll have to do it right away. Most governments give you a small window of time after the accident has occurred to file a claim against them. If you do not comply with the shortened applicable deadlines then your claim can be denied.
When you file your claim, be prepared to have a fair settlement figure to cover the costs of your damages. This can be a complicated process, and you should factor in both short-term and long-term costs associated with the accident. If your claim is denied, you may have the option to sue the government. Lawsuits against governments are more complicated than regular lawsuits, and if possible, you should seek the assistance of a lawyer to help you build a strong case.