Every year hundreds are killed, and many thousands are injured, as a result of auto accidents involving emergency vehicles. Emergency vehicles include police vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks. In 2018, per a National Safety Council analysis, crashes involving police vehicles caused the most deaths, followed by ambulances and fire trucks. Another recent study showed the crash rate is actually higher when the emergency vehicle is using its lights and sirens. The cause for this is uncertain, but it makes sense that the driver, in an emergency situation, may drive faster and more carelessly.
What Can You Do If You Are Injured In A Car Wreck Caused By An Emergency Vehicle?
If you are injured in a crash caused by an emergency vehicle, many complex laws come into play. If the vehicle is privately owned, you may be able to proceed as a normal car wreck. This is very rare, as most emergency vehicles are owned or operated as part of a governmental entity. This includes city and county law enforcement, ambulance and fire services. Federally owned vehicles may also be involved, and Federal law if different from Florida law.
Under Florida law, a governmental body and its employees have “Sovereign Immunity.” This means they generally are immune from a civil suit. Florida has a limited waiver of immunity for certain torts. In Florida, you can sue the governmental entity as long as you give statutory notice prior to filing suit. The purpose of the notice is to give the entity the chance to investigate and settle the claim. The notice must be given at least 6 months prior to filing suit. If the entity does not settle the case, then suit can be filed.
FOR PERSONAL INJURY ACTIONS, THE NOTICE MUST BE GIVEN WITHIN THREE YEARS OF THE INCIDENT, AND SUIT MUST BE FILED WITHIN FOUR YEARS. THE MAXIMUM RECOVERY FOR A CAR CRASH AGAINST A GOVERNMENTAL ENTITY IS $200,000 PER PERSON AND $300,000 PER CLAIM.
For example: If five people are seriously injured in a crash, the max recovery is a total of $300,000. In Zarzaur Law, P.A.’s experience, the government will aggressively defend such cases, as they have limited exposure and generally have insurance to cover the claims. If the crash involves wrongful death, it must be filed within two years, and only after the six-month notice is given.
The Federal Tort Claim Act
Crashes with federal vehicles, including vehicles owned by the armed services are subject to the Federal Tort Claim Act. Again, a notice must be given, and the claim denied before a suit is filed. The notice must be filed within 2 years of the injury. While there is no limit on recovery against the Federal government, the case will be heard and decided by a federal judge, as there is no right to a jury trial. Such awards are often smaller than could be expected from a jury.
UM Coverage and Emergency Vehicle Crashes
Most people do not know that their uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage may be available if they are injured in a crash with an emergency vehicle. Vehicles owned by a governmental agency are usually determined to be uninsured in most policies, and per Florida case law. Even though you can sue the entity for the negligence of its employee, your own UM coverage should provide compensation. As we say regularly, this is simply another good reason to purchase UM coverage, since it is relatively inexpensive and provides good protection to you and your family.
While there are many injuries every day caused by emergency vehicles, getting just compensation is very difficult. The law is very complicated and is best handled by an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been the victim of an accident, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.