The Ohio Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a wrongful death suit, in which the Ohio city of Canton is accused of being responsible for the 2007 death of a driver who was killed in an accident with a fire truck.
The accident, which sparked the wrongful death case, occurred when an 82-year-old driver drove his van through an intersection and was struck by an oncoming fire truck, which had run a red light on its way to a fire. The fire truck did not have a siren activated, but its driver claimed he activated the vehicle's emergency lights and used the air horn to warn motorists. The driver of the van was killed in the accident, while his wife sustained serious injuries.
The victim's widow and her husband's estate sued the city in 2009, but a judge ruled that the city was immune because the firefighter was performing his official duties at the time of the crash. The plaintiffs appealed, saying the city was not immune due to the firefighter's failure to stop at a red light, which violates traffic codes and city policies. An appeals court reversed the ruling of the initial court, giving the plaintiffs a chance to argue the case before a jury.
A Canton law enforcement official spoke to the state Supreme Court, arguing that it is unfair to consider traffic laws and departmental policies when determining immunity. He explained that if the lawsuit is allowed to go through, many cities could eliminate beneficial policies in order to protect themselves from liability.
This is one of two wrongful death cases from the same Ohio county involving fatal accidents with fire trucks. If the court rules in favor of the victims' families, public agencies will need to be safer around the general public.
Source: CantonRep.com, "Supreme Court hears case involving Canton firetruck," Shane Hoover, Feb. 7, 2012