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Accidents Involving First Responders

Filing a personal injury claim for an accident involving a first responder, such as an ambulance or fire truck, can be complicated. Accidents involving first responders or emergency vehicles in California have specific rules and exceptions with regard to civil liability for personal injury or wrongful death.

Public policy is to allow paramedics, firemen and the police to quickly respond in emergency situations, especially cases involving life threatening scenarios. As such, California law provides first responders leeway to disregard certain traffic signals and rules of the road. However, this flexibility does come with certain limits, such as avoiding reckless driving that causes an undue risk of harm to the public.

California Driving Laws for First Responders

Below are some important California Vehicle Codes that specifically discuss emergency medical personnel and the police:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21055:

    this code sections allows a police car, ambulance, fire truck or any other emergency vehicle from having to comply with many rules of the road as long as the following criteria are met:

    • Emergency Vehicle Engaged in an Emergency Situation: “(a) If the vehicle is being driven in response to an emergency call or while engaged in rescue operations or is being used in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or is responding to, but not returning from, a fire alarm, except that fire department vehicles are exempt whether directly responding to an emergency call or operated from one place to another as rendered desirable or necessary by reason of an emergency call and operated to the scene of the emergency or operated from one fire station to another or to some other location by reason of the emergency call.”

    • Siren and Lights Are Activated: “(b) If the driver of the vehicle sounds a siren as may be reasonably necessary and the vehicle displays a lighted red lamp visible from the front as a warning to other drivers and pedestrians.”

  2. California Vehicle Code 165:

    this code section defines what constitutes as an “emergency vehicle”:

    • Any “publicly owned ambulance, lifeguard or life saving equipment” or any “privately owned” vehicle commissioned by the California Highway Patrol to respond to emergency calls;

    • Any “publicly owned vehicle” used as follows: (a) by “any federal, state, or local agency or department, or district employing peace officers”; (b) forestry or fire department vehicles; (c) public vehicles equipped and used either for fighting fires, or towing or servicing other vehicles, caring for injured persons, or repairing damaged lighting or electrical equipment; (d) any state owned vehicle used in responding to emergency fire and rescue calls; (e) U.S. Federal Agency vehicles used for emergency response, fire fighting or life saving; and (f) any other vehicle commissioned by the CHP with an authorized emergency vehicle permit.

Filing an Injury Claim After an Accident with a First Responder

California Vehicle Code Section 17004 holds that first responders are not liable for civil damages arising out of personal injury claims result from a collision in the line of duty. This means that if you are involved in an accident with an emergency vehicle, they are immune and you are not able to file an injury claim against them.
However, as with most rules, there is an exception. California Vehicle Code 21506 provides that drivers of emergency vehicles are not relieved from the duty of driving with due regard for the safety of all persons using the roadway. This means that an emergency personnel must still act safely in discharging their duties and a failure to do so that results in an accident can leave them vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney

If you or a loved has been injured in a car accident, you should discuss your legal options with an attorney as you may be entitled to compensation. The Los Angeles car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Samer Habbas & Associates advocate for their clients’ full financial recovery through hard work and an aggressive approach. For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys, please call 949-835-5410.


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Our firm is well experienced in injury matters and we understand the difficult time you are going through. We will guide you through the process and fight for you and your family to get the compensation you deserve.

Samer Habbas