When a crash with an ambulance or another emergency vehicle occurs, it is critical for injured victims to find out who may be held responsible and if they may be compensated.
Emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks race through our towns and cities with life-saving urgency, playing a crucial role in various situations and providing rapid response, assistance, and support during emergencies. Even though saving lives is their first objective, a careless emergency vehicle driver’s actions could endanger other drivers or passengers. Likewise, unmaintained emergency vehicles like ambulances can lead to serious crashes, some of which injure other individuals on the road. In fact, the potential risks and reasons for emergency vehicle-related accidents abound.
Whether an accident with a police car, a fire truck, an ambulance, or another emergency vehicle, injured victims who suffer the consequences of someone else’s negligence have rights in New Jersey. If you have been injured in a crash with an emergency vehicle, it is important to explore your options and to know if you may be eligible for compensation. Contact Cohen & Riechelson for a free review of your case and speak with an attorney about seeking damages for your injuries.
Types of Emergency Vehicles and their Purpose
Fire trucks or fire engines are deployed to combat fires, rescue individuals trapped in burning buildings, and protect property. Law enforcement agencies use police vehicles for various purposes. They patrol neighborhoods to deter crime, respond to emergency calls, pursue suspects, conduct traffic stops, and aid during accidents or other dangerous situations.
Emergency vehicles are essential for evacuation, relief distribution, and disaster response coordination during natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes. They aid in moving people to safety, delivering supplies, and transporting rescue teams to affected areas.
Ambulances are dispatched to respond to medical emergencies such as heart attacks, accidents, or other life-threatening situations. They transport patients to hospitals, often with medical personnel on board to provide immediate care en route. Ambulances and fire trucks respond to traffic accidents to provide medical assistance, extract trapped individuals from vehicles, and secure accident scenes. They also help manage traffic flow and ensure the safety of responders and bystanders.
It’s important to note that emergency responders continuously strive to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of accidents. They undergo rigorous training, utilize advanced vehicle technology, and adhere to protocols designed to ensure the safety of both the responders and the public, but that does not leave accidents out of the realm of possibility.
How Do Emergency Vehicle Accidents Happen in NJ?
Emergency vehicle accidents can occur due to various reasons. While emergency responders are highly trained and experienced, certain factors can contribute to accidents involving these vehicles. Obviously, emergency vehicles often need to reach their destinations quickly, so that they may exceed the speed limits. However, high speeds can make it challenging to control the vehicle, navigate intersections, and respond to sudden changes in traffic conditions, increasing the risk of accidents.
Emergency vehicles are granted certain privileges on the road, allowing them to disregard some traffic laws when responding to emergencies. However, other drivers may fail to yield the right of way or be unaware of an approaching emergency vehicle, leading to collisions or near misses.
In addition, emergency responders, like anyone else, can be susceptible to distractions while driving. Using communication devices, radios, or other equipment can divert their attention from the road, potentially resulting in accidents. They often use sirens, flashing lights, and other visual signals to alert other drivers. However, adverse weather conditions, obstructions, or driver inattention can make it difficult for motorists to see or hear emergency vehicles, leading to accidents.
Emergency workers frequently work long shifts and may experience fatigue or high stress levels. Fatigue can impair judgment, reaction time, and attentiveness, while stress can affect decision-making and increase the likelihood of errors or misjudgments on the road.
While emergency responders undergo extensive training, in some cases, insufficient training or inexperience can contribute to accidents. Handling emergency vehicles, managing high-stress situations, and navigating through traffic requires specialized skills that may take time to develop.
Intersections can be particularly hazardous for emergency vehicles. Other drivers may not anticipate the rapid approach of an emergency vehicle or may fail to yield properly, resulting in collisions at intersections. These accidents are prevalent and extremely dangerous as the impact is usually a T-bone collision where one vehicle is perpendicular to the other. The driver receiving the impact typically receives the most severe injuries.
Emergency vehicles are subject to wear and tear like any other vehicle. Mechanical failures such as brake issues, tire blowouts, or steering malfunctions can occur, potentially leading to accidents.
Injuries Suffered by Occupants of Emergency Vehicles
When accidents involving emergency vehicles occur, the occupants of these vehicles can sustain various types of injuries. The severity of the injuries depends on factors such as the nature of the accident, the speed of the vehicles involved, the use of safety equipment, and the position of the occupants within the vehicle.
Rear-end collisions or sudden stops can cause whiplash, which is characterized by the rapid back-and-forth motion of the head and neck, causing soft tissue damage that can range from a minor strain to serious inflammation and nerve damage.
Occupants of emergency vehicles can sustain head injuries if they are thrown against the vehicle’s interior or struck by objects during the collision. These injuries can range from minor concussions to more severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which can have long-term effects on cognitive function and memory.
Accidents involving significant impact can lead to spinal cord injuries. These injuries can cause paralysis or loss of sensation and function below the site of the injury, potentially resulting in long-term disabilities. The force of a collision can cause fractures and broken bones in various parts of the body. Commonly affected areas include the arms, legs, ribs, pelvis, spine, and skull.
The impact of an accident can cause damage to internal organs, leading to internal bleeding, lacerations, or organ perforation. Internal injuries can be life-threatening and may require immediate medical intervention. Occupants may suffer cuts, abrasions, and bruising from contact with vehicle components, such as broken glass, metal parts, or loose objects within the vehicle during the collision.
In addition to physical injuries, occupants of emergency vehicles involved in accidents may experience psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can profoundly impact mental well-being.
Safety Advice for Drivers When an Emergency Vehicle is on Its Way
All involved parties are responsible for upholding safety protocols during rescue operations, whether it be the emergency responders themselves or fellow drivers on the road. When encountering a speeding emergency vehicle, there are many things to consider.
Remain calm and attentive while driving. Be aware of the traffic around you and the approaching emergency vehicle. Carefully move to the side of the road, always yielding to the emergency vehicle.
Intersections are a common place where accidents happen. If you are in an intersection as an emergency vehicle is approaching, carefully drive through to avoid blocking their way. If you arrive at an intersection, move over quickly and as far as possible to make a path.
Always leave plenty of space between yourself and the emergency vehicle. Never tailgate an emergency vehicle in an attempt to get through traffic.
By acting accordingly, you, other motorists, and the emergency vehicles can reach your destinations quickly and safely.
How Negligent Driving Can Cause Accidents with Emergency Vehicles
While many people are careful when driving around regular motor vehicles or trucks on roads today, it is just as critical for motorists to stay alert when sharing space with emergency vehicles. Negligent drivers who disregard their responsibility and right of way laws towards passing ambulances or firetrucks could potentially cause harm not only in terms of an accident but the damage that could be invoked if the emergency vehicles are unable to reach those who need them in time.
Distracted driving practices amplify risk exponentially; anything from scrolling your phone for messages to putting on your makeup is a potentially life-threatening distraction.
Negligent drivers may change lanes without signaling or checking their blind spots, cutting off emergency vehicles attempting to pass or navigate through traffic.
Failing to comply with traffic laws puts both the driver and emergency personnel at risk. Negligent drivers who run red lights or stop signs can collide with emergency vehicles with the right of way. Some drivers may speed or engage in reckless behavior, such as tailgating or weaving through traffic.
When an emergency vehicle activates its lights and sirens, it signals other drivers to yield and create a clear path. Some drivers take advantage of the path made by the emergency vehicle and follow close behind the ambulance or fire truck to get ahead of the stopped traffic.
Impaired drivers, whether due to alcohol, drugs, or medication, have reduced reaction times and poor judgment. They may be less likely to notice or yield to emergency vehicles, putting themselves, emergency personnel, and other road users at risk.
How Hard Is It to Prove Liability In Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles?
Determining liability in an accident involving an emergency vehicle can be complex and depends on the specific circumstances of the incident. However, some general factors are typically considered when determining liability.
Emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks are often granted certain privileges when responding to emergencies. These privileges may include exceeding the speed limit, running red lights, or disregarding traffic signals. However, these privileges are usually accompanied by specific rules and protocols that emergency vehicle operators must follow. Adherence to these rules to ensure the determination of liability is maintained.
All drivers, including emergency vehicle operators, have a duty of care to drive safely and responsibly. This means they must exercise reasonable caution to avoid causing harm to others. If an emergency vehicle fails to exercise proper care while responding to an emergency, it may be held partially or entirely liable for any resulting accidents.
Negligence involves assessing whether a party failed to meet the standard of care expected in a particular situation. In the case of an accident involving an emergency vehicle, negligence can be attributed to either the emergency vehicle operator or the other driver involved.
Contributory negligence refers to situations where both parties involved in an accident share some degree of fault. If the other driver involved in the accident contributed to the collision by, for example, failing to yield to the emergency vehicle or driving recklessly, their negligence may also be considered when determining liability.
Following an emergency vehicle accident, an investigation is typically conducted to gather evidence and determine the sequence of events. This may involve collecting witness statements, reviewing surveillance footage, analyzing the accident scene, and examining the vehicles involved. The findings of the investigation can play a crucial role in determining liability.
Given the complexity of determining liability in accidents involving emergency vehicles, it is advisable to consult with a qualified attorney who can provide legal guidance based on the specific details of the situation.
Seeking Damages if You Have been Injured in a Crash with an Emergency Vehicle
As in all personal injury cases regarding vehicle accidents, damages include lost and future wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life (hobbies, exercise, day-to-day activities), and wrongful death.
Contact our Princeton NJ Personal Injury Lawyers to Start Building Your Claim After an Accident with an Emergency Vehicle
At Cohen & Riechelson, we are driven to find justice for our clients. We know that emergency vehicles save many lives, but we also have seen them make mistakes behind the wheel. No one wants to besmirch the reputation of first responders, but when negligence occurs, it must be addressed.
Did you know that settlements won with the help of an attorney are much higher than those without? Our experienced attorneys are ready to take on the insurance company to ensure your settlement is fair and covers all requested damages in Hopewell, Monroe, Titusville, Ewing, Trenton, Lawrence, and towns in Mercer County, Middlesex County, Somerset County, and throughout New Jersey.
Call our seasoned personal injury attorneys at (609) 528-2596 to get started with a free consultation and learn more about how we can advocate on your behalf. You can also fill out a form to hear from an accident lawyer as soon as possible.