When an accident occurs involving first responders, the post-accident process may become exceedingly complex; as several legal protections exist to reduce their liability. These protections, otherwise known as sovereign immunity, remove liability in certain circumstances, such as auto accidents. However, each state has conditions that nullify this immunity. For instance, if a first responder acted negligently,(i.e. failing to turn on sirens or flashing lights) and causes an auto accident, sovereign immunity may not apply.
However, if the accident occurred during an emergency, the urgency thereof will be considered before fault is determined. If a severe emergency existed at the time of the accident, the first responder may not have any liability; leaving you to cover your own medical and property damage expenses.
Luckily, in Utah, every driver has access to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance. PIP covers medical expenses up to a certain limit; provides compensation for lost wages, and funeral expenses if a fatality occurs as a result of the auto accident.
First Responder Vehicle Crash Statistics
According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), car accidents rank second as a leading cause of on-the-job fatalities for firefighters. Whatsmore, first responders are 4.8 times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents compared to the average citizen.
As reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- Around 6,500 accidents each year involve ambulances
- 35% of these accidents resulted in injury or fatality
- Of those killed in auto accidents involving ambulances, 63% were occupants of a passenger vehicle; 21% were ambulance passengers; 4% were the ambulance drivers; 12% were non-occupants/pedestrians
- Approximately 60% of ambulance accidents occur during emergency use
- Among first responders, emergency medical personal are more likely to cause accidents
Which Party Is Liable In This Scenario?
Generally, liability lies with the party who acted with the most negligence. Therefore, the outcome of each claim will vary on a case by case basis. The determination of fault will depend on a variety of circumstances as well as the context of the accident. For instance, if the accident occurred while an emergency vehicle was en route to a severe emergency, the first responder may not have any liability. However, emergency responders have a duty to be aware of the safety of other vehicles on the road and must drive accordingly.
Utah State Statute — Civilian Driver Responsibilities
Under Utah code 41-6a-904, when an emergency vehicle approaches with its lights or sirens on you must yield the right-of-way and move as far right as possible; eventually coming to a complete stop, where you must wait until the vehicle has passed.
If you come upon a stationary emergency vehicle with its lights and/or sirens on, you must reduce the speed of your vehicle and provide them sufficient space; even as to move an additional lane away from them. The same regulations apply if you are driving in a Utah HOV lane.
When an emergency vehicle is traveling down the road with its lights and/or sirens on Utah code 41-6a-212 and 41-6a-1625 prohibits you from: following closer than 500 feet behind the emergency vehicle; passing the emergency vehicle while it is moving; stopping within 500 feet of a fire apparatus which has stopped in response a fire alarm.
What Are the Consequences for Failing to Adhere to These Statutes?
A citizen who violates these laws must (at minimum) participate in a four-hour-long defensive driving course; preapproved by either a Utah Driver’s License Division (DLD) or by a state court. Once completed, the driver must submit a completion certificate to their local DLD.
Furthermore, their license may be suspended for upwards of 90 days if these statutes are violated, or if the driver fails to complete the defensive driving course within 90 days. However, the suspension of the driver’s license may be shortened if the driver completes the course prior to the 90-day mark. However, the driver will be subjected to a license reinstatement fee.
Were you or someone you know involved in a recent auto accident? Call Auto Accident Care Network now at 801-683-1948 to connect with a live care advocate. Our team at AACN can connect you to trusted attorneys and doctors to schedule a free legal consultation, a free thirty-minute massage, and a no-cost medical exam!