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Tennessee Court Upholds $200K Accident Judgment Against County

Under normal circumstances, a person can be held liable when they fail to follow traffic rules and a car accident results. For example, if you run a red light and collide with another vehicle that was obeying the traffic signal, the law presumes you are at fault for the accident. But there are exceptions to this general rule, such as for emergency vehicles. A person driving an ambulance or a police car while responding to a call may, under Tennessee law, “disregard” the normal rules of the road. Such drivers must still, however, exercise “due regard for the safety of” other drivers on the road. And when an emergency driver acts “with reckless disregard for the safety of others,” a victim may seek damages against the agency that employs said emergency driver.

Fire Truck Driver Failed to Exercise “Extreme Caution”

Here is a recent example. One afternoon in July 2012, a woman was traveling in her car towards an intersection in Cleveland, Tennessee. At the same time, a fire truck owned by Bradley County, Tennessee, headed towards the same intersection while responding to an emergency call. The woman claimed she never heard or saw the fire truck and proceeded through the intersection with a green light. The fire truck made a left-hand turn against a red light and collided with the woman’s vehicle.

The woman suffered severe injuries in the crash, which included “compression fractures in two of her thoracic vertebrae and herniations of two cervical discs.” One of her doctors said her ongoing pain “will likely need surgery and increasing amounts of pain medication in the future.” Indeed, the doctor said she would need at least two surgeries and that she had a “very poor prognosis.”

The woman sued Bradley County, alleging its driver’s negligence was responsible for her injuries. The county filed a counterclaim, arguing the woman caused the accident by failing to yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle, and that she should be held liable for damage to its fire truck. A jury determined the county was 60 percent responsible for the accident and awarded the plaintiff approximately $207,000 in damages. The county appealed.

But the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s verdict. The court noted the jury heard evidence the fire truck driver failed to use “extreme caution” when he failed to stop at the intersection. There was also evidence the driver, who was working the truck by himself, did not properly operate the emergency sirens, which might have given the plaintiff advance warning. The appeals court also said the jury’s damage award was justified given the medical testimony regarding her “inevitable” need for additional surgeries in the future.

Get Help Following a Car Accident

This case disproves the old adage, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Working for the county, even in an important first-responder capacity, is not an excuse to engage in reckless driving. If you have suffered serious injuries in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence, you need to stand up and assert your legal rights. An experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer can help. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette in Clinton or Knoxville today if you need to speak with an attorney about your case.

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