Torts: Standard of Care of Operator of Emergency Vehicle
Jennings v. Agne, No. 1 CA-SA 22-0090 (App. Div. I, October 20, 2022) (J.Perkins) https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Div1/2022/1%20CA-SA%2022-0090%20JENNINGS%20et%20al%20v.%20HON%20AGNE.pdf
OPERATOR OF EMERGENCY VEHICLE USING BELL, SIREN OR EXHAUST WHISTLE AND WARNING LIGHT IS NOT LIABLE UNLESS ACTING IN RECKLESS DISREGARD
City of Mesa Police Officer Jennings entered an intersection on a red light with lights and sirens to clear the intersection for herself and other emergency vehicles on an emergency call for back up of an officer with a gun drawn on an armed suspect. Plaintiff collided with Jennings's vehicle. Plaintiff sued alleging negligence. Defendants moved for summary judgment claiming that the standard of care was either recklessness or gross negligence and not simple negligence. The Arizona Court of Appeals accepted special action jurisdiction of the trial court's denial of the motion and granted the defendants the relief requested.
Arizona statutes give operators of emergency vehicles the right to “disregard laws governing the direction of movement or turning” so long as the operator is responding to an emergency and has lights and sirens on. A.R.S. § 28-624. These statutes control and require proof of a driver's reckless disregard for safety to maintain an action for tort damages arising out of a collision with an emergency vehicle so long as the driver used an emergency “bell, siren or exhaust whistle” and at least on emergency light.
Further, while driving is ordinarily a ministerial task not protected by qualified immunity, driving in response to an emergency police call for backup is not and is protected. “The public simply cannot afford for those individuals charged with securing and preserving community safety to have their judgment shaded out of fear of subsequent lawsuits.”