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Automobile and Trucking Liability - Are Tennessee emergency responders exempt from traffic laws and can they be held responsible for accidents?

Posted on Sep 30 2013 7:33AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  Tennessee emergency responders are not required to follow certain traffic laws when responding to an emergency call.  However, they are still required to drive with “due regard for the safety of all persons” and can still be held liable if they do not comply with this requirement.

 

Analysis:  A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision discussed an interesting issue about whether emergency responders are required to comply with traffic laws.  The case of Hardeman County v. Judy I. McIntyre, 2013 WL 1227034, No. W2012-01690-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) involved a situation where an ambulance struck another vehicle while on an emergency call.  The ambulance crossed the double lines in order to proceed around some vehicles but ended up striking the plaintiff’s vehicle, injuring the plaintiff.  The trial court assessed 60% of the fault against the ambulance driver and 40% of the fault against the driver of the other vehicle.  The case was appealed and the respective duties were discussed in detail.

 

The court noted that T.C.A. § 55-8-108 provides that emergency responders are exempt from certain traffic laws in Tennessee.  The key parts to T.C.A. § 55-8-108 are as follows:

 

(a) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions stated in this section.

(b)(1) A driver of an authorized emergency vehicle operating the vehicle in accordance with subsection (a) may:

(A) Park or stand, notwithstanding other provisions of this chapter that regulate parking or standing;

(B) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;

(C) Exceed the speed limits so long as life or property is not thereby endangered; and

(D) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

(2) Subdivision (b)(1) shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall subdivision (b)(1) protect the driver from the consequences of the driver's own reckless disregard for the safety of others.

 

However, it is important to note that T.C.A. § 55-8-108(b)(2) specifically provides that an emergency vehicle operator is not excused from operating a vehicle with due care.  As a result, ambulances and other emergency responders are allowed to disregard posted speed limits and other governmental regulations regarding direction and movement.  However, the emergency responders cannot place life or property in danger and must exercise due regard for all drivers.  Hardeman County at 5. 

 

Although this is a lengthy opinion which should be reviewed for an analysis of when emergency responders can be responsible for an automobile accident, ultimately the court reversed the trial court decision and found the ambulance company was not responsible for the accident in question.  In fact, the court awarded the ambulance service damages for the accident.  It is an interesting case to read if you have a situation involving an accident with an emergency responder vehicle.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Defenses
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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