Understanding Emergency Vehicle Collision Liability in New York City

Emergency personnel can endanger innocent people in various ways when using emergency vehicles.


The people of New York and New York City are highly dependent on emergency services such as police, paramedics, firefighters, etc. These people from the emergency services help keep the general public safe and come to our aid when needed. Despite the heroic efforts of many of these professionals, they are not always successful. Sometimes emergency service individuals fall short and cause significant harm to the public on New York’s roads. Unfortunately, there are people who are seriously injured or wrongfully killed in collisions with emergency vehicles in New York City, and sometimes the first responder is the negligent party.

Auto accident attorneys in New York know how tricky this area of ​​law can be and how difficult these cases are. It is difficult because we are conditioned from an early age to slow down and yield to emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, fire engines or other first aid vehicles. Now that we are adults, we know that an emergency vehicle can appear out of nowhere and cause an accident or pose a danger to motorists. Most of the time, as motorists, we only see the emergency vehicle as it drives very fast and weaves through traffic to get to an emergency situation. First responders are not perfect beings and sometimes they break the law. When this happens, innocent people are exposed to serious harm.

Oays First Responders can put people at risk

Emergency personnel can endanger innocent people in various ways when using emergency vehicles. Sometimes these end tragically with serious or even fatal injuries. Of course, it’s the first responder’s job to get to the scene of the emergency as quickly as possible. This forces them to drive above the speed limit, blast through stop signs and red lights, and take shortcuts that could be dangerous. Sometimes first responders have to jump curbs or even drive against oncoming traffic.

New York’s vehicle and traffic laws allow emergency vehicles to operate in this manner and also allow first responders to engage in other behaviors that a normal citizen would otherwise be prohibited from doing. An example of this would be that first responders are allowed to use their cell phones while driving, unlike regular citizens. This is a perfect example of how first responders can expose us to unnecessary harm.

There are regulations that emergency personnel must follow when using an emergency vehicle. Police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles must use emergency lights and sirens when violating traffic laws, such as speeding. Lights and sirens are used to warn oncoming motorists that they must yield and make way for the emergency vehicle. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and it can lead to a serious collision with an emergency vehicle in New York.

New York Vehicle and Traffic Laws for Emergency Vehicles

New York State Vehicle and Traffic Laws Section 1144 deals with traffic violations or when it is deemed necessary for an emergency vehicle to violate certain traffic laws. This includes when they can exceed the speed limit when they can cut off traffic and other stipulations regarding traffic control devices. For an emergency vehicle to stop traffic, the following must be activated:

Emergency vehicles at night; image by Nate Isaac, via Unsplash.com.
  1. Emergency lights
  2. Emergency sirens

Both must be enabled. If any of them are not activated, they are violating vehicle and traffic laws. These are visual and audible warnings to surrounding pedestrians and motorists. Regardless of the weather or time of day, surrounding people should be able to see the emergency lights or hear the emergency siren. This ensures that those around them are aware.

What happens when an emergency vehicle only has its headlights on?

In New York, if a motorist collides with an emergency vehicle whose lights or sirens are not on, the department or city is likely to be held liable. Thus, the police, the department and the municipality can be held liable for damages suffered by an injured victim. This is due to the superior responsible doctrine, which holds municipalities accountable for the actions of their employees.

How can I prove my responsibility in a collision with an emergency vehicle?

The path to proving liability in these types of cases is tricky. Auto accident attorneys in New York understand that they must prove that the emergency vehicle had no lights or sirens on. This can be quite simple in cases involving police vehicles these days, as many of them have computing devices better known as a “black box”. This black box will have recorded whether or not both emergency signals have been activated.

However, this is not always true, as most of the time victims will have to rely on their own testimonies and observations which can be discredited in court. It’s also difficult because most jurors learn from an early age that first responders are trustworthy people.

The victim’s testimonies are not without hope, however. Other motorists could have witnessed the accident, as well as pedestrians and other passers-by. There are also sometimes surveillance cameras in the companies. These can both be very helpful in proving that the first responder driving the emergency vehicle is responsible.

Do I have to prove my collision with an emergency vehicle in New York beyond a reasonable doubt?

New York law states that victims of collisions with emergency vehicles need only prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. Beyond a reasonable doubt is generally reserved for criminal cases and requires a level of confidence of almost 100% in the attributed responsibility. A preponderance of the evidence requires the victim to prove only that the evidence shows that they are more than 51% right.