This month, I will investigate negligence, its relationship to driving with due regard for the safety of all other users of the highway and how due regard and negligence affects you, the emergency vehicle operator. Negligence is "the habitual failure to do the required thing; careless in manner or appearance; neglectful indifference." The legal definition of negligence is described as; "Failure to use a reasonable amount of care, when such failure results in injury to another."
Now, we will take the legal definition of negligence, break it down further and define it. To the emergency vehicle operator, "failure to use" could encompass vehicle and traffic laws, SOPs, policies or actions that should have been used, but were not. An example would be driving without due regard. Next we have "a reasonable amount of care." Reasonable care is defined as the action that can be expected from a reasonable, prudent person with regard to a situation. When the situation involves human life and safety, only the highest degree of care against foreseeable danger is reasonable.
An example of an emergency vehicle operator not driving "with reasonable care," would be speeding through a red light and striking another vehicle while responding to a call. One might argue that the emergency vehicle operator could not have foreseen the danger. However, we know statistically that the vast majority of major apparatus accidents occur at intersections. You must come to a complete stop at red-lighted intersections. You must wait until the privilege of the right of way is granted to you. Make no mistake about it, being granted permission by the motoring public to cross a red-lighted intersection is a privilege, and a privilege we can ill afford to lose, due to our recklessness or negligence.
When you have been granted the right of way, and safely negotiate the intersection, then, and only then, have you satisfied the definition of reasonable care. To achieve your goal of getting the right-of-way at an intersection, you must drive aggressively, yet defensively, particularly in an urban environment. How do you accomplish this task? When I drove the fire apparatus in New York City, I frequently encountered a very busy intersection at the corner of Webster Avenue and Fordham Road in the Bronx. If I waited at this intersection for the right of way, I could be there forever. When confronted with this situation, you must nose out into the intersection aggressively, to let your presence be known and to define the seriousness of the situation, yet temper your actions with safety, common sense and defensive driving skills to satisfy the definitions of reasonable care and due regard.
Due regard is defined as how a "reasonably careful person, performing under similar circumstances would act in the same manor." These definitions are how you will be judged in a civil court of law.
Continuing with our breakdown of the negligence definition, we look at "when such failure." Failure is a negative result. This negative result is obvious in a major apparatus accident. The last part of the definition, "to another," means that the failure, that negative result, caused by you, the emergency vehicle operator, caused another person to have property damage, be injured or die.
We are living in the age of the lawsuit. Today there seems to be a widespread belief that the best way to get ahead in life is to sue someone. Even if the accident is the person's own fault, someone else has to pay for it. Here lies the deep pocket theory. The deep pocket theory is based on the mistaken belief that insurance companies, fire districts, municipalities, cities, public owned utilities and large corporations have deep pockets full of money ready to hand out to the public, every time the public wants to sue them. We know that this simply isn't the case. The money paid out in civil liability cases results in higher insurance premiums, higher taxes or higher utility rates for everyone. Every time someone goes to liability court and wins, it affects you and me.