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Court Establishes Different Standards of Negligence for Emergency Vehicles

Generally speaking, emergency vehicles (police cars, ambulances, fire trucks) are supposed to obey the rules of the road just like everybody else. Of course, these rules do not apply during an actual emergency. When an emergency vehicle is operating with its lights or sirens flashing, it is allowed to speed, run a red light, stop in the street, and otherwise disregard the traffic laws, according to Vehicle and Traffic law section 1104.

What happens if you are involved in a collision with an emergency vehicle? Section 1104 states that the emergency vehicle will not be liable for accidents caused during an emergency response, unless the driver acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others. “Reckless disregard” is a legal standard of proof which is higher than ordinary negligence. In other words, it would be much harder to prove a case against an emergency responder than against another driver who caused the same accident in the same manner.

The New York Court of Appeals recently put an interesting twist to section 1104. In the case of Kabir v. County of Monroe, decided in February of 2011, the court held that the reckless disregard standard only applies if the accident occurs while the vehicle was responding to an emergency and violating the traffic laws allowed in section 1104. In other words, an emergency responder who causes an accident while responding to an emergency yet not breaking any traffic laws will be held to the lower standard of ordinary negligence.

Does this distinction make sense? In a way, it seems to reward emergency responders for violating traffic laws in an emergency and penalizing those who feel they can respond to the emergency while still obeying traffic regulations.

It is important to remember that in either scenario, emergency vehicles must still drive with care. Even when violating traffic laws, drivers of emergency vehicles are supposed to drive safely and not endanger life or property. Although different standards apply, every collision with an emergency vehicle should be investigated by a qualified personal injury attorney to determine whether the negligent driver can be held liable under the applicable law. In New York City, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for a free consultation and immediate assistance.