The City of Baltimore’s Board of Estimates recently convened to discuss the approval of settlement proceeds for three separate automobile accidents involving city vehicles. The lesson? Government employees can sometimes be just as negligent on the roads as ordinary citizens. The secondary lesson? Governments are responsible for the actions of their employees if the employee is acting within the course of his/her employment.
One accident involved a health department inspector’s vehicle that jumped a curb and struck a pedestrian who was waiting at a bus stop in Bel Air. The driver allegedly either fell asleep at the wheel or suffered from an undisclosed medical emergency, which caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The City settled with the pedestrian in the amount of $200,000.
Another accident involved a mobile library trailer that was hitched to a city truck. The trailer suddenly became unhitched, rolled onto a sidewalk, and struck a man who was detailing his car. The man sued under the theory that a city employee improperly secured the trailer, thereby causing his injuries. The City settled with this man in the amount of $100,000.
The final accident was the most troubling for all parties involved, and for many different reasons. Three people were traveling in a mid-size SUV, when a city fire truck approached the intersection they were entering. The fire truck was responding to an emergency call and had its emergency lights and sirens engaged. Unfortunately, the driver of the SUV did not observe the lights or sirens until he had lawfully entered the intersection under a green light. The fire truck sped through the intersection under a red light, struck the SUV, and killed all three occupants.
Maryland accident attorneys know that emergency vehicles, including police and fire vehicles, are permitted to disregard the right of way indicated by traffic control devices if doing so would inhibit their ability to respond quickly to an emergency. In other words, a fire truck may run a red light if responding to an emergency, as this fire truck was in this situation. However, it is not an absolute privilege. Drivers of emergency vehicles that do not have the right of way must first stop and observe the traffic in an intersection to ascertain the safety of entering the intersection.
In this case, the fire truck was traveling in excess of 40 miles per hour when it struck the SUV, indicating that the driver had not first stopped to observe the safety of entering the intersection. The City elected to settle out of court, utilizing a special damage cap of $40,000 in cases of personal injury or death at the hands of emergency vehicles.
The result is troubling for Maryland personal injury lawyers in several regards. On one hand, the public values the ability of emergency personnel to respond quickly to an emergency. On the other hand, there are legal protocols emergency personnel must follow to reduce the likelihood of injury or death. Three people died as a result of the accident, and their families were only able to recover a maximum of $40,000.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident involving a state or local government vehicle, a Maryland auto accident attorney may be able to recover damages on your behalf. The fact that we applaud these government employees for their public service should not mean that you cannot recover money from the government.
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