Fatal New Year's Eve Crash Reveals Dangers of Unsafe Emergency Responders
A fatal accident during the hours preceding the Chik-Fil-A Bowl involved a patrol car that collided with another vehicle in an intersection collision. The fatal collision resulted in the tragic death of the wife of a trainer for the Atlanta Braves. The accident occurred when the officer’s squad car allegedly ran a red light when entering an intersection while on the way to a traffic stop to assist another officer. Media reports regarding the fatal intersection collision indicate that the patrol car had its lights on, but not its siren. The family of the accident victim may file a wrongful death lawsuit based on the fatal intersection accident.
Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits involving emergency responders like police, firemen and paramedics can be extremely complicated. Nonetheless, there is an enormous risk posed by these vehicles that fly through intersections at high rates of speed and create a high probability of a potential collision. When emergency vehicles are responding to calls, there are procedures that they are required to follow that are designed to reduce the risk of a serious accident.
While the victim in this tragic fatal crash may be able to successfully pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, there are complications in lawsuits involving emergency response personnel. Georgia law provides for sovereign immunity for public officials and government entities, but the Georgia Tort Claims act authorizes liability provided specific procedures and timing requirements are met. Under OCGA 50-21-23, government immunity is waived for acts of officers while on duty in some circumstances.
If the media accounts of the fatal traffic accident are accurate, there are a number of facts that may suggest that the officer was negligent. It is unclear why the officer did not have his siren on, but the initial warning that a siren would have provided might have averted the collision. Another factor that might be relevant is the seriousness of the call to which the officer was responding in relation to the officer’s rate of speed. If the response was a routine traffic response it may not have justified the officer's high rate of speed as he ran the red light.
Another key factor to keep in mind when considering the circumstances of the fatal collision involving the police car is that 70,000 people were navigating streets only a few blocks away on New Year’s Eve as they attempted to get to the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. Law enforcement officials certainly are cognizant of the dangers of drunk drivers on New Year’s Eve, and alcohol consumption is a common practice in the vicinity of sporting events. When these dangers are considered in light of the massive volume of traffic in the area, the speed of the officer and the decision not to use his siren may be viewed with close scrutiny.
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