On Wednesday evening, June 10th, 2020, Bronx mother, Tanika Smith, ran out of her home to a horrifying scene as her 10-year-old daughter laid on the street after being struck by an NYPD car. Ten-year-old Chante, thankfully, survived the accident.
According to Smith, her daughter had the right of way when a police car rammed into her without any lights or sirens for warning. The accident occurred at Hunts Point Avenue near Seneca Avenue in the Bronx. Police were reportedly responding to a call about an emotionally disturbed person several blocks away at Faile Street and Lafayette Avenue. Smith told reporters “The police were coming with no sirens on, just speeding. [Chante is] aware that anytime there’s an emergency, the cops have to have their sirens on.”
On Sunday, police spokeswoman Det. Denise Moroney maintained that the officers did use lights and sirens at the time of the accident. In a statement, she said the NYPD officers were responding to a call “with lights and sirens…when a 10-year-old female pedestrian ran across the intersection and was struck by the passenger’s side front corner bumper.”
After the accident, Smith says her daughter suffered head pain, swelling to her ankles, and walked with a limp. Smith says Chante was traumatized from the incident and claims that the NYPD have not given a satisfactory explanation for what happened. She shares, “I think the cop needs to pay for what he did to my daughter. We need justice. If there weren’t so many people out there they’d act like everything was okay…Cops are supposed to help you, not hurt you.”
As they usually arrive to accident scenes to provide assistance, it can be difficult to imagine emergency vehicles being involved in an accident. In such cases, it may be hard to determine liability for the accident.
Under New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1104, drivers of police vehicles, when responding to emergencies, are allowed by law to disregard certain rules of the road, and can be protected from civil liability if they injure someone while doing so.
These exemptions are narrow, however.
For example, a police vehicle responding to an emergency is allowed to drive through red lights and stop signs, but only “after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.” Similarly, a police car may exceed the speed limit, but only if it “does not endanger life or property.”
If the driver of an emergency vehicle injures someone while engaging in the specific conduct exempted from the rules of the road, he or she can only be held civily liable if the plaintiff can establish that the driver acted in “reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
This is a higher standard than negligence and requires proof that the driver ignored “a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow” and that he or she did so “with conscious indifference to the outcome.”
Whether liability attaches under this heightened standard requires an analysis of the specific facts of the case by a skilled lawyer.
If an accident occurs while the driver of an emergency vehicle is engaged in conduct other than the exemptions listed in Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1104 — say that the driver did not see “that which though the proper use of his or her senses he or she should have seen” — the injured person need not establish that the driver acted with reckless disregard — simple negligence will suffice.
While a police vehicle is not required by law to have its lights or sirens engaged when responding to an emergency according to VTL Section 1104, the driver’s decision to not activate them can still be considered by a jury as a factor in determining whether the driver acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others — especially when the vehicle was speeding through a densely populated residential neighborhood in the evening hours.
As noted in NY Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1144, the law does not “relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle of the duty to drive with reasonable care for all persons.” Emergency responders must be aware of their surroundings at all times.
If you or a loved one were harmed in an accident caused by the negligent or reckless actions of another party, it may be in your best interest to contact a lawyer with experience in personal injury law. The auto accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy are dedicated to obtaining justice for their clients. Our proven track record includes a $3,000,000 settlement for a NYC bus passenger that was injured when the bus she was riding on was struck by a police vehicle responding to an emergency.