Liability in Accidents with Emergency Vehicles in Texas
Negligent drivers of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances are accountable for the injuries they cause.
Emergency vehicles are increasingly involved in serious and fatal car accidents in Texas. Houston alone has experienced three fatal police chase accidents in recent years. Accident victims frequently face challenges in obtaining compensation after a crash. But when someone is injured by an emergency vehicle, recovering compensation is made even more difficult because of special laws that protect government entities from lawsuits.
However, governments still have a duty of care and can be held accountable for negligence or recklessness in some circumstances. In such cases, justice and compensation can be pursued with the help of an experienced car accident attorney. Liable parties may include:
- The emergency vehicle driver.
- The emergency vehicle driver's employer.
- A government agency or municipality
- A negligent third party, such as the driver of another vehicle involved in the accident or a manufacturer.
It is estimated that thousands of people nationwide have been injured or killed in accidents involving emergency vehicles. This makes it essential for everyone to be aware of Texas liability laws and how they apply to cases involving government services.
Types of emergency vehicle accidents
Collisions with police cars get the most attention, but there are many types of emergency vehicle accidents. Authorized emergency vehicles include fire and police vehicles, ambulances, municipal department or public service corporation emergency vehicles, county-owned or leased emergency vehicles, and the private vehicles of volunteer firefighters responding to emergencies, among others.
Accidents involving emergency vehicles can happen anywhere, but the risk of such a crash is especially high at intersections. These right-of-way accidents occur when an emergency vehicle, such as a police car, ambulance, or fire truck, enters a crossroads with lights and sirens activated and collides with another vehicle crossing its path. Other common collisions involving emergency vehicles include rear-end accidents, sideswipes, and head-on collisions. Unfortunately, emergency vehicles also sometimes hit vulnerable road users like motorcyclists, pedestrians, or cyclists.
Traffic laws for emergency vehicles in Texas
It's important to remember that even though emergency vehicles have special privileges on the road, their drivers still need to be careful and follow traffic laws to prevent accidents. In Texas, specific rules allow emergency vehicle drivers certain privileges when they use their lights and sirens, with a few exceptions. In emergency situations, an emergency vehicle driver may:
- Park or stand where needed.
- Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.
- Exceed the prima facie speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property.
- Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
Liability in police, fire, and truck accidents
In emergency vehicle accidents, liability is often restricted by Sovereign Immunity, which is established by the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). In general, the law says that government agencies and employees are not liable for damages that result from the performance of their official duties. Therefore, if an ambulance or police car is responding to a call when they cause an accident, Sovereign Immunity may protect the government from paying for victims' injuries, lost wages, and other damages.
However, Sovereign Immunity does not apply to every emergency vehicle accident. Whether you have a case depends on the circumstances and your attorney's investigation. For example, if a police officer was responding to an actual emergency when the accident occurred, that's different from an accident caused when the officer was just returning to the station to fill out some paperwork. These are factually intensive cases where an experienced lawyer can make a significant difference.
Compensation for an emergency vehicle accident
If an agency cannot claim Sovereign Immunity, an injured emergency vehicle accident victim may be eligible to seek compensation for:
- Medical expenses.
- Lost wages and lost future income.
- Pain and suffering.
- Property damage.
However, the TTCA still limits liability by capping victim compensation and barring exemplary or punitive damage awards in accidents involving government agencies. Here are the caps for injured victims of accidents involving emergency vehicles owned or operated by:
- State of Texas: Up to $250,000 per injured victim, up to $500,000 per accident, and up to $100,000 for property damage.
- County government: Up to $100,000 per person, up to $300,000 per accident, and up to $100,000 for damaged property.
- Municipal government (cities, towns, etc.): Up to $250,000 per person, $500,000 per accident, and $100,000 for property damage.
Emergency vehicle accidents require experienced legal representation
Just because a person is operating an emergency vehicle does not mean they no longer owe a duty of care to others. For example, the driver of an emergency vehicle still has the duty to operate the vehicle with appropriate regard for all persons. If they fail to do so, there may be legal recourse for the victim.
Given the unique and technical nature of claims and lawsuits involving the government, it is important for injured victims seeking compensation to consult an experienced attorney with a track record of success handling emergency vehicle accidents. Smith & Hassler has been fighting for victims' rights in Houston and across Texas for over 30 years.
If you have been injured or a loved one died in a Texas emergency vehicle accident, do not wait to seek legal help. Very strict deadlines apply to these cases, and your attorney needs to get right to work building your case. Learn more about your potential legal options. Schedule a free case evaluation with a Houston car accident lawyer today.