On Christmas Day 2019, an all-terrain vehicle rider passed a vehicle and slammed head-on into an Atlanta fire truck coming from the other direction.
The wreck occurred near the intersection of Dill Avenue and Sylvan Road. Apparently, an ATV rider moved into the opposite lane to overtake a slower-moving vehicle. The fire truck and motorcycle then collided. Emergency crews were unable to revive the rider, who was not wearing a helmet.
Preliminary investigation results indicate that the fire truck’s lights and sirens were on. Furthermore, the ATV rider, whose name was not released, came from around another car. So, the fire truck driver’s visibility was limited. However, the investigation is ongoing.
Nationwide, ATV crashes injure tens of thousands of people every year. Georgia has one of the highest fatality rates in the county.
Duty in Car Crash Cases
At first blush, this claim appears impossible for a Marietta personal injury lawyer to win. However, there is a good chance that the ATV rider is entitled to at least some compensation.
Yes, the ATV rider was on the wrong side of the road at the time of the crash. And yes, it is illegal to operate an ATV on a public street. But that’s only part of the story.
Let’s start with the wrong side of the road issue. In head-on collisions, the driver at fault for the accident is not necessarily the driver who is liable for damages, largely because of the last clear chance rule.
If the firefighter saw the ATV coming, and the firefighter did nothing to avoid the crash, the fire truck operator, and not the ATV driver, might be legally responsible for damages. This doctrine also comes up in many rear-end crash claims. If one driver had a chance to avoid the crash, perhaps by accelerating or changing lanes, that driver had a legal duty to do so.
Additionally, for negligence purposes, operational legality is usually irrelevant. Potential tortfeasors (negligent drivers) still have a duty of care if potential victims do not have valid inspection sticker or operating taillights. If anything, potential tortfeasors have a higher duty of care in these situations.
Firefighter Duty in Car Crash Cases
The normal rules of the road do not apply to fire trucks and other emergency response vehicles when they are in emergency mode (lights flashing and/or sirens wailing). However, this immunity is not unlimited. For example, Georgia law prohibits fire trucks from blowing through red lights or stop signs. Instead, these vehicles have a duty to pause and ensure they way is clear before proceeding through the intersection.
Emergency responders still have a duty of care in these situations. Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care, but firefighter duty involves the following:
- Extreme Recklessness: This misconduct is a step above negligence. Extreme recklessness is a conscious disregard of the safety of other people. Such behavior is rather common in police chases, but relatively rare among firefighters. When fire trucks are in emergency mode, there is nearly always a life-or-death situation involved.
- Policy Violation: The aforementioned red-light policy is probably the best example of a policy violation. In this context, it does not matter if the firefighter ignored the policy or did not know about it. The result is the same. Violation of a policy is clear evidence of negligence.
Intentional neglect of a policy or safety is not relevant for liability purposes, but it might be relevant for punitive damages purposes. More on that below.
The bottom line in the above story is whether the fire truck driver saw the ATV rider and whether the driver had an opportunity to at least limit the crash’s severity. If these two things are true, the fire department might be liable for damages.
Damages in a Car Wreck Claim
Full compensatory damages are usually available in most car crash claims. Compensatory damages place victim/plaintiffs in the same position they would have been in had the wreck not occurred. So, these damages include compensation for economic losses, such as:
- Medical Bills: In extreme situations, such as spine injuries, the medical bills alone could exceed $4 million. Almost no one can pay these expenses out of pocket. Additionally, most health insurance companies do not cover injury-related costs. So, medical bill compensation is essential.
- Lost Wages: Most accident victims are essentially bedridden for several days, weeks, or even longer. When they return to work, they are usually not at their best. And, their injuries may permanently affect their ability to make money. Lost wages compensation should reflect all these things.
- Property Loss: All physical property has an emotional value which, in many cases, exceeds the financial value. The family car is a lot more than a used vehicle. For the most part, Georgia law acknowledges this fact, so compensation for both financial and emotional losses is available. The big exception is probably the loss of a family pet.
Economic losses are just the beginning. These injuries and losses also have substantial noneconomic impacts. Items like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium (companionship) are difficult to quantify.
Finally, as mentioned above, additional punitive damages are often available. These additional damages punish negligent actors for their extreme actions and also deter future misconduct.
The Helmet Defense in Georgia
Like eighteen other jurisdictions, the Peachtree State has a mandatory motorcycle helmet law. All riders must always wear protective headgear . However, even if riders were not wearing helmets, they might still be entitled to compensation.
Georgia law sharply limits use of safety restraints, like motorcycle helmets and seat belts, in civil actions. Insurance companies cannot use such non-use to establish contributory negligence for the wreck or to reduce the victim/plaintiff’s damages.
This law is closely related to the eggshell skull doctrine. Many people have pre-existing medical conditions, such as weak hearts, which make them susceptible to certain kinds of injury or illness. An insurance company cannot use such pre-existing conditions to decrease the victim/plaintiff’s damages. A victim’s physical weakness should not create a financial windfall for a tortfeasor.
Connect with a Dedicated Lawyer
Unless an attorney reviews your case, there is no way to tell how much compensation might be involved. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Home and hospital visits are available.