"EMERGENCY DOCTRINE" GIVES SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN ACCIDENT CASE TO AMBULANCE THAT RAN GREEN LIGHT WITH LIGHTS AND SIREN ON

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, New York

Case: Spencer v. Astralease Associated, Inc.

Date: Nov. 15, 2011

From: New York attorney Gary E. Rosenberg (personal injury and accident attorney and lawyer; serving Queens; Queens accident attorney)

Comment: Defendant-ambulance ran a red light and struck the car in which the plaintiff (a child) was a passenger). The ambulance sought to invoke the "emergency doctrine," which gives special privileges to emergency responders such as police, fire, and ambulance. Basically, the rule -- set forth in New York State's Vehicle and Traffic Law -- is that if an emergency responder has an accident while responding to an emergency call, it can't be held liable (responsible) for simple negligence. The emergency responder can only be successfully sued if they drove with "reckless disregard" for the safety of others.

I don't have to tell you that this is a nearly impossible standard for an accident victim to show. If the emergency responder had on lights and siren, these cases are thrown out of court (dismissed) practically 100% of the time. Such is what happened here, where the lower court's denial of summary judgment to the emergence responder was reversed by the appeals court. Summary judgment granted to the defendant ambulance service and ambulance driver and this child's accident/injury case is dismissed.

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RELATED POSTS:

POLICE CAR IN ACCIDENT WHILE ENGAGED IN EMERGENCY OPERATION NOT LIABLE UNDER "RECKLESS DISREGARD" NEGLIGENCE STANDARD (Posted by Brooklyn accident attorney Gary E. Rosenberg on Dec 15, 2011)

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Order, Supreme Court, Bronx County (Norma Ruiz, J.), entered October 25, 2010, which, insofar as appealed from, in this action for personal injuries allegedly sustained by infant plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident, denied the motion of defendants Lifeline Ambulance Services Inc. and Gilberto Ward for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as against them, unanimously reversed, on the law, without costs, and the motion granted. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Lifeline Ambulance Services, Inc. and Gilberto Ward dismissing the complaint as against them.

Infant plaintiff was a rear‑seat passenger in a vehicle owned by defendant Miller and operated by defendant Gordon (infant plaintiff's mother). As the vehicle driven by Gordon proceeded through an intersection with a green light in her favor, it was struck by an ambulance leased by Lifeline and operated by Ward, who was responding to an emergency situation. The impact caused both vehicles to strike a third vehicle owned by a nonparty.

The record demonstrates that Lifeline and Ward were entitled to summary judgment. The evidence established that Ward activated his siren and emergency lights prior to the accident and hit the ambulance's air horn several times and slowed his rate of speed as he approached the intersection. Thus, he had a qualified privilege to proceed through the red light (see Vehicle and Traffic Law Sec. 1104[b]; Kabir v. County of Monroe, 16 N.Y.3d 217, 920 N.Y.S.2d 268, 945 N.E.2d 461 [2011]; Turini v. County of Suffolk, 8 A.D.3d 260, 778 N.Y.S.2d 66 [2008], lv. denied 3 N.Y.3d 611, 786 N.Y.S.2d 814, 820 N.E.2d 293 [2004]). There was no evidence that Ward acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others during the emergency operation of the ambulance (see Vehicle and Traffic Law Sec. 1104[e]; Saarinen v. Kerr, 84 N.Y.2d 494, 620 N.Y.S.2d 297, 644 N.E.2d 988 [1994]; Gervasi v. Peay, 254 A.D.2d 172, 679 N.Y.S.2d 45 [1998]).

Plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition to the prima facie showing. In her EBT, Gordon testified that she did not see the ambulance prior to the accident. Her testimony concerning the lights and sirens was based on observations made after the accident. Thus, Gordon's statements that the ambulance's lights and siren were not activated prior to the accident were insufficient to defeat the motion of Lifeline and Ward (see e.g. Phillips v. Bronx Lebanon Hosp., 268 A.D.2d 318, 320, 701 N.Y.S.2d 403 [2000]).

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