If you've been driving for many years, your reaction to flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror may be instinctive -- pull over and slow down. However, sometimes these base reactions aren't enough to keep you safe in a major emergency where adrenaline is running high, and you could find yourself facing medical issues after being struck by an emergency vehicle. Do you have any recourse against the emergency personnel who caused you injury, or must you turn to your own health insurance and auto insurance companies for restitution? Read on to learn more about how personal injury claims against emergency personnel are handled.
Can you sue the city or county for damage caused by an emergency vehicle?
First responders are equipped with a difficult and important job -- to arrive at an accident or injury scene quickly enough to offer lifesaving help if needed but to do so without placing others at risk in the process. However, first responders are human, and occasionally in the rush to arrive at the scene, they cause damage or injury to a pedestrian or other driver. Governments have anticipated this, and most have established specific procedures you'll need to follow in order to recover a financial judgment against the city or county.
If your cause of action is against an agency managed by the state government, you'll usually be required to file a notice of claim with the government under your state's tort claim act. City and county governments often have a similar procedure on a local level, and you could be required to jump through several administrative hoops before you'll be permitted to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
When might a lawsuit against the city or county be dismissed?
In some situations, your lawsuit may be dismissed before your case makes it to final judgment. For example, if the city or county can present credible evidence that shows you were acting in a reckless or negligent manner before the accident in which you were injured, they may be able to file a counter-claim against you while your initial claim is dismissed. To fight against this, you'll need to be able to present evidence that the defendant was at least equally negligent and played a part in your accident.
What types of expenses may you be able to recover?
If you can demonstrate that the first responders breached their duty of care to you as a bystander and caused you injury, you may be able to recover your out-of-pocket medical expenses stemming from the accident and any additional reasonable costs you suffered as a direct result of the accident (like lost wages or hotel expenses for your family while you were hospitalized). You'll have to provide proof of the expenses you've incurred, whether by entering copies of your bank statements into evidence or providing itemized bills. The city or county's attorney may offer to settle your claim prior to trial in an amount that helps compensate you and avoids the additional expense of putting on a hearing.
In some cases, you may be able to show that the first responders were not only negligent but also reckless. If you can present sufficient evidence in support of your claim (particularly if you can show that the first responder responsible for the accident had a disciplinary history or a number of speeding tickets), you may be able to collect punitive damages as well as compensatory damages. However, unlike compensatory damages (designed to reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses on which you've already paid income taxes), punitive damages are taxable to you at your highest marginal tax rate.
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