When you see a large vehicle weaving its way at high speed through the lanes, you might consider calling the police to report it. But what if the speeding vehicle actually belongs to law enforcement?
Fire truck accidents are very different from typical truck accidents. By default, the city represents the crew and fire truck. Once the city is involved in an accident, filing a claim may become tricky, especially when it concerns emergency responders, for reasons including cause of the accident and a government provision that protects the city called “sovereign immunity.”
However, each accident is unique; the validity of a claim depends on the cause of the accident and how a state provides legal remedy for victims of these kinds of accidents.
Common Causes of Fire Truck Accidents
Fire trucks are some of the largest vehicles on the road. By law, these vehicles may drive at any speed deemed necessary to reach the emergency they’ve been called to. It is not unusual for those speeds to exceed 75 miles per hour. And while motorists around the nation know that it’s their responsibility to pull to the side of the road when they hear the telltale siren, sometimes drivers may not comply with procedure for various reasons.
- By far the most common cause of car accidents with fire trucks is the failure of other vehicles to safely pull over when a fire truck approaches. As one emergency driver told the Los Angeles Times, “On every run, there is someone who doesn’t stop.” This failure requires fire trucks to maneuver much more than they should have to, a dangerous proposition for a massive speeding vehicle.
- Another frequent cause of fire truck accidents is the tendency of other drivers to slow down when passing an emergency scene. Many fire truck accidents have taken place because a fire truck driver could not avoid the “looky-loos” and even people taking pictures or video of an accident from their car.
Some fire truck accidents are, of course, the responsibility of the firefighters themselves. Firefighters are susceptible to the same influences that any driver may experience, such as being fatigued, intoxicated or reckless with their driving. While all fire trucks are legally required to stop at stop signs and red lights, it is not uncommon for drivers to speed through an intersection on their way to an emergency scene.
Fire truck accidents may also result from a vehicle failure or even from poorly secured equipment. The immense pressure that firefighters experience to get to the scene on time can leave a wide margin of error in preparing their vehicle to enter traffic at high speed. Some car accidents with fire trucks are the result of a ladder, hose or other equipment coming loose from the fire truck and crashing into another car.
What Happens If You’ve Been in a Fire Truck Accident?
When you are the victim of an accident involving a fire truck, pursuing a claim against the fire truck driver essentially means filing a lawsuit against the local government—usually the town, city or county.
While the local government will almost certainly take a report of any accident involving a fire truck, it is not likely to treat the accident in the same way that it would a car crash between two individuals. Filing a lawsuit against the government is not as straightforward as pursuing a claim against an individual or even a business. The reason for this is governments operate under a legal standard called “sovereign immunity.”
What is Sovereign Immunity?
Sovereign immunity, also known as governmental immunity, is just what it sounds like: an immunity from being held legally responsible, specifically from lawsuits. This principle has been in place in the United States since at least 1793, and it prohibits any person from suing against the government unless the government allows the lawsuit.
Sovereign immunity laws vary from one state to the next. In general, though, it is more likely that a local or state government will make an exception to its own immunity in the case of an accident involving an emergency vehicle.
That does not mean that the case will be easy. Courts tend to be much more forgiving toward emergency responders if the accident occurred during a real emergency.
As another legal source explains it, “The threshold for proving driver responsibility and fault is significantly higher when you’re suing the government…than what is required in a typical accident case.”
What Can You Do If You’ve Been Involved in an Accident with a Fire Truck?
If you have been the victim of a fire truck accident, you do have legal recourse. While the process of pursuing a claim against the local government is complicated, with the right legal counsel it can be done. Having an experienced attorney on your side after a fire truck accident can make all the difference to your outcome.