Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles

 Accidents involving emergency vehicles can be extremely complex as the rules and duties associated with emergency response driving are different than those that apply to the ordinary driver.  A recent appeal case (Heynes v West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust) dealt comprehensively with this type of accident and gives assistance to lawyers representing people who have suffered personal injuries following an accident with an emergency vehicle.

In this case the Claimant driver approached a junction in the nearside (left) lane, as the right lane was designated as a right-turn only lane.  She slowed to around 20mph, as she anticipated that the lights might turn red, but as she was around three car lengths away she heard the siren of an emergency vehicle.  She checked her mirrors and the road ahead but could not see the source of the siren.  The road to her left was clear but she was unable to see to her right due to the presence of a number of vehicles in the right-turn only lane.  As she passed the front of the queue of traffic in that lane she was struck from the off (right) side by an ambulance.

The Ambulance Service conceded primary liability but argued that the Claimant should accept 40% of the blame for failing to stop or slow sufficiently to see the ambulance approaching.  At first instance the Claimant was successful on a 100% basis but the Ambulance Service appealed on several grounds, including the fact that by excluding the possibility of the ambulance approaching the junction from three directions the Claimant should have concluded that it was approaching from the fourth and should have braked to a standstill at the junction.  The appeal Judge rejected those arguments on the basis that the ambulance driver was allowed to cross a junction through a red light, but only if it was safe to do so and the duty on that driver to avoid a collision would be extremely high.  The only alternative course of action available to the Claimant was to brake to a standstill, but in doing so she would have blocked the junction and caused additional risk.  It was not reasonable to expect a driver to simply brake to a standstill upon hearing a siren, that driver should continue their journey but proceed with caution being vigilant as to any action they may be expected to take to allow the ambulance to pass safely.  The Claimant’s vehicle was travelling at roughly 30ft per second and if it had taken her only one second to try and locate the ambulance before she decided to brake she would actually have passed the line of traffic and become stationary in the middle of the junction, which would have been worse.

This case shows that although the Courts are willing to be sympathetic to drivers responding to emergencies they will not impose on members of the public a much higher duty of care than would normally be expected of them.  However, many of these accidents occur at junctions and each case will fall to be decided on its facts.  As such, if you have suffered personal injuries in an accident involving emergency vehicles it is essential that you seek expert advice from an experienced Solicitor.  Call David Mayor or any of our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 975 2463, or contact us by email for free expert legal advice.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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