Emergency responders like police officers, ambulance drivers, and firefighters must respond to emergencies as fast as possible. They may speed, run stop lights, and weave through lanes to respond to emergencies. California law exempts emergency vehicle drivers from conventional road rules when responding to an emergency.

However, there is always an increased risk of accidents whenever motorists engage in unsafe driving behaviors. Our Los Angeles car accident attorneys discuss what you should know about emergency vehicle accidents below.

What Happens if an Emergency Vehicle Hits You in California?

California Vehicle Code defines an authorized emergency vehicle as any of the following publicly owned vehicles:

  • Ambulances
  • Police cars
  • Fire trucks
  • Lifeguard vehicles
  • Forestry department vehicles

Paramedics entering their blue ambulance

Emergency vehicles also include any publicly owned vehicle that is equipped and used for the following:

  • Fighting fires
  • Emergency response
  • Fire rescue calls
  • Life-saving
  • Towing or servicing other vehicles
  • Caring for injured people
  • Repairing damaged lighting or electrical equipment

Lastly, the law recognizes any privately owned vehicle commissioned by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to respond to emergencies with an authorized permit.

How Often Do Car Accidents With Emergency Vehicles Occur?

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 180 people died in crashes involving emergency vehicles in 2020. More than half of these people were occupants of passenger vehicles. Additionally, the majority of these crashes occurred with police cars.

Understanding Immunities Given to Emergency Responders

Emergency responders get certain liberties when responding to emergencies. California Vehicle Code 21055 authorizes an emergency vehicle exemption from many traffic laws when it:

  • Engages in an emergency situation. Under the law, an emergency situation includes responding to an emergency call, engaging in rescue operations, pursuing a suspected or actual law violator, and responding to a fire alarm.
  • Activates its sirens and lights. The driver must sound the vehicle’s sirens and display red lights to warn other drivers and pedestrians.

In addition, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in California are owned or commissioned by the government. Public employees like police officers are immune from civil lawsuits if the accident occurred while the driver was responding to an emergency situation.

However, you should not assume you do not have a case. Emergency vehicle operators also have a duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all people. Immunity will depend on several factors, including the circumstances of the crash, whether the emergency responder followed proper procedures and negligence.

What Rights Does a Motorist Have When Hit by an Emergency Vehicle?

Recovering compensation for damages incurred in an emergency vehicle accident can be challenging. The driver is likely a police officer, firefighter, or other government employees. Public employees have protections against lawsuits when responding to emergencies. Additionally, bringing a claim against a government entity has obstacles, and there may be local, state, and federal laws to consider.Yellow ambulance stuck in traffic with a crowded roadway

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If you believe your injuries resulted from a Los Angeles car chase accident, you have the right to pursue damages. Even though these cases can be complex, it is possible to bring a successful claim against the government and its employees. We recommend discussing your situation with a Los Angeles car accident lawyer from our firm.

What to Do When an Emergency Vehicle Hits You

You should follow the same steps you would in the event of any auto accident. These steps include:

Check for Injuries and Call 9-1-1

Before moving or getting out of the vehicle, you should:

  1. Look over yourself for any visible injuries. If you are injured, moving could make your injuries worse.
  2. If you do not see any visible injuries, check on any passengers in your car and the occupants of the emergency vehicle if it is still on the scene.
  3. If anyone is hurt, call 9-1-1 and ask for immediate medical attention at the scene.

Seek Medical Care for Injuries

If you do not get a medical examination at the accident scene, seek medical attention as soon as possible after the accident. This step is essential for a couple of reasons.

Even if you feel fine or think you have minor injuries, you should still see a doctor. You may have underlying injuries that have not appeared yet. The adrenaline from the accident may make it seem like you are uninjured. Additionally, even minor injuries could worsen over time if not evaluated and treated.

Medical documentation is essential to protecting your potential accident claim. It is difficult to claim that you suffered injuries in an accident if you did not get medical attention afterward.

Exchange Important Information With the Driver

After any auto accident, including an emergency vehicle accident, you should obtain important information from the other drivers involved. You should try to get the following information from the driver:

  • Name
  • Contact information
  • Driver’s license number
  • Badge or identification number
  • Employer information
  • Insurance information

You should also write down or take pictures of the emergency vehicle and any other vehicles involved, including your own. Try to get the following information:

  • License plate number
  • Vehicle make and model

If the emergency vehicle did not stop at the accident scene and continued to its destination, ask any witnesses of the car collision if they caught the vehicle’s identification number or license plate number.

Write Down the Details of the Accident

Writing down details of the accident and taking photos and videos can be essential for your potential car accident claim. This information can help establish the cause of the accident, damage extent, and accident fault. Try your best to document the following information:Person applying bandage on another person's hand

  • Your injuries
  • Damages to the emergency vehicle, your vehicle, and any other vehicles involved
  • Location of the accident
  • Road conditions
  • Weather conditions
  • Witness names and contact information

Report the Accident With Your Insurance Company

You should report the accident to your insurance provider and let them know that a fire truck, police car, ambulance driver, or other vehicle was involved in the accident. However, you should not apologize for the accident or guess about the circumstances of the accident. We do not recommend giving your insurance company a detailed statement until you have talked to an experienced lawyer.

We do not recommend speaking with the emergency vehicle’s insurance carrier or claims company without first talking to an attorney. Unfortunately, the insurance company is not on your side. It will try to use any statements you make to devalue your claim.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer About the Accident

If you have been injured due to a police officer, firefighter, or another emergency responder’s negligence, consider discussing your situation with our Los Angeles car accident lawyers as soon as possible.

Many emergency vehicles are owned or commissioned by the government. Because of this, these cases are more complex than auto accident cases with another passenger vehicle. In addition, there are stricter deadlines for filing a personal injury claim.

A personal injury lawyer may be able to help you with your claim from the beginning, including:

  • Answering your legal questions
  • Helping you understand your best legal options
  • Performing an independent investigation of the accident
  • Determining liability for your damages
  • Collecting strong evidence
  • Filing your claim in adherence to legal procedures and deadlines
  • Handling communication with the insurance company on your behalf
  • Negotiating for maximum and fair compensation
  • Litigating on your behalf, if necessary

How Is Fault Determined in an Emergency Vehicle Accident?

In most car accidents, accident fault is determined by negligence or failure to act with a reasonable level of care. For motorists, it generally means failing to abide by traffic laws.

However, California exempts emergency vehicles from standard traffic laws when responding to emergencies. Motorists must also abide by specific rules when driving near emergency vehicles. In these cases, accident liability depends on the car accident circumstances.Red paramedic truck being driven in a street

For example, was the emergency vehicle responding to an emergency? Did the driver follow procedures such as turning on the vehicle’s red lights? Did you follow California traffic laws? Was the driver acting negligently? If the vehicle was not responding to an emergency or failed to follow emergency procedures, the driver is held to the same standard as other motorists. All of these factors may determine accident liability.

Who Will Pay For My Injuries After an Auto Accident?

After an accident, you are responsible for ensuring your medical bills are paid. You may have a viable personal injury claim to recover compensation for your injuries. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, you may be able to pursue damages including incurred medical bills against the driver and the government.

Rules of the Road for Emergency Vehicles in California

There are two primary rules of the road when driving near emergency vehicles in California. These rules include California’s “Move Over” law and Vehicle Code 21806.

California’s Move Over law requires drivers to drive cautiously and change lanes before passing a parked emergency vehicle with flashing lights. If changing lanes would be unsafe, motorists should slow down to a reasonable speed while passing.

Vehicle Code 21806 states that drivers should yield the right-of-way and pull over to the right-hand edge of the road or curb when they hear  sirens or see at least one red light flashing. Motorists should stay clear of intersections, stop, and wait to resume driving until after the vehicle passes.

Contact Our Los Angeles Car Accident Attorneys After an Accident

Did you get hit by an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance, fire truck, or police car? You may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. We are happy to answer your legal questions and discuss your best legal options during a free and confidential consultation.

Our Los Angeles car accident attorneys handle many auto accident cases and have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in awards and settlements, you can check their testimonials. At the Law Offices of Steers and Associates, we can determine whether we can help you pursue a claim during a free consultation. We are available for phone consultations, video conferring, and in-office visits. Call us at (800) 824-5416 or fill out our online contact form.