Emergency responders such as police officers, firefighters, and ambulance drivers do an important public service and, when they are responding to emergencies, other vehicles are required to give them a wide berth. However, while emergency responders are given wide latitude under the law, they are still required to follow proper safety precautions in order to avoid an accident. It is especially important that emergency responders take care when motorcycles are involved. Due to their small size and lack of protection for the riders, motorcyclists are both at higher risk to be in an accident at a higher risk to be severely injured or killed. However, if a motorcyclist is injured or killed by a government vehicle in an emergency response situation, receiving compensation for your damages, including property damage, personal injury, and wrongful death, can be very difficult due to the complicated laws that govern government vehicles.
Government Immunity Law
Governmental entities – including cities or towns, states, counties, school districts, and the federal government – are generally protected from lawsuits under a doctrine known as “government immunity” or “sovereign immunity.” However, there is an exception to this immunity "under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred" (28 U.S.C. S 1346(b)). One of the most common situations where this exception occurs is in traffic accidents caused by a government employee driving an official government vehicle. A government entity can be sued for damages in a traffic accident if:
The vehicle is owned or leased by the government entity
The driver is acting in an official capacity
The driver can be proven to be at fault.
As mentioned above, vehicles in emergency situations are given a large amount of latitude. However, they are still required to follow proper safety procedures, including having their lights and sirens on. If you were hit by an emergency vehicle that did not have its lights and sirens on, you may have grounds for a claim.
Filing a Suit Under Government Immunity Exceptions
To file suit against a government entity, you must file a notice of claim within 180 days of the accident. If you miss this deadline, you may forfeit your rights to collect any damages. In addition, many government entities require you to include a dollar amount for your damages on this claim, so it is very important that you carefully calculate your damages and estimate any future damages that may occur from your injuries. If the government entity denies your claim, you may need to file suit. There is a 1-year statute of limitations to proceed with a lawsuit.