I came across an article in the Geneva Finger Lakes Times yesterday about a volunteer fireman responding to vehicle fire who was ticketed for “driving at an unreasonable speed” after failing to stop at a stop sign, going off the road, hitting a light pole and then a parked car in downtown Penn Yan, Yates County.
So here’s the blog question of the day: Did this volunteer fireman, who was responding to an emergency (a vehicle fire), have a legal right to speed and go through the stop sign without stopping?
The answer is a qualified “yes”. Pursuant to New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104, the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle (e.g., police cars, ambulances, firefighters), when involved in an emergency operation, may not be held liable for New York car accidents when disobeying certain traffic rules, including speed limits and stopping at stop signs “except where he/she acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others”.
As a Central New York car accident lawyer, I have reviewed many New York car accident cases in which emergency responders such as police officers or firefighters have crashed into private citizen-motorists when responding to emergencies. Generally, we must prove that the emergency responder acted with “reckless disregard” to the safety of the public. Plain negligence is not enough.
The issue in this case is whether the volunteer firefighter acted with “reckless disregard” in responding to this vehicle fire. Since he went off the road right in the middle of Penn Yan, in a 30-mile-per-hour busy downtown, there is some question as to whether he acted in “reckless disregard” to public safety. Sure, he had a right, even a duty, to go faster than the speed limit, and to go right past the stop sign, carefully, but he did not have the right to completely disregard the safety of the public.
Although the vehicle fire created a public hazard and danger, emergency responders should not be allowed to create even greater hazards or dangers in the manner of responding. The rule of law here tries to balance the need for our emergency responders to respond quickly to emergencies with the equally important need to ensure that the emergency response itself does not make matters even worse.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer Michaels & Smolak, P.C.