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Road Traffic Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles and the “Reckless Standard”

Road Traffic Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles Case Law
Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Posted in Car Accidents

Most New Yorkers assume that all drivers in New York are held to the same standard of “ordinary care” in operating their vehicles. After all, everyone had to take the same written and driving tests to get their licenses. Generally, a driver can be held liable for “ordinary negligence” if they fail to exercise due care when operating their motor vehicles or if they fail to observe New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”). A critical exception to this general rule comes in the form of VTL 1104, which allows authorized emergency vehicles (e.g. ambulances and police vehicles), responding to emergency situations, to drive through stop signs and red lights, exceed the speed limit, and disregard directional markers and signs.

Road Traffic Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles Case Law

The caveat is that while engaging in this emergency response, the driver must “drive with due regard for the safety of all persons” and must not drive with “reckless disregard for the safety of others.” This “reckless standard” has been further defined by New York Courts as “intentionally commit[ing] an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow” (see Szczerbiak v Pilat, 90 NY2d 553, 557 [1997]; Saarinen v Kerr, 84 NY2d 494, 501 [1994]; Campbell v City of Elmira, 84 NY2d 505, 510 [1994]).

The Applicability of the “Reckless Standard”

The inquiry into the applicability of the “reckless standard” is incredibly fact-specific and requires an investigation into myriad issues, including: (1) whether there was an actual emergency; (2) whether the vehicle had the appropriate lights and/or sirens on; and (3) whether the vehicle’s purported negligent act fell within the enumerated categories in VTL 1104. Even if a Court finds that the “reckless standard” applies, this is not the end of the inquiry, as a number of factors could still give rise to liability, such as (1) the nature of the area in which the reckless driving and resultant accident occurred; (2) how much over the speed limit the driver was traveling; and (3) what steps the driver took prior to violating the enumerated rules of the road.


Due to the intensive investigation required in establishing a car accident case against an emergency vehicle, it is imperative that you contact an attorney as soon as possible so that they can take the necessary investigative steps to establish the case. If you or someone you love has been injured in a motor vehicle accident involving an emergency vehicle, please do not hesitate to contact our lawyers at Grandelli & Eskenasi for a free legal consultation at 212-668-8400.



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