The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling last month in the case of a volunteer firefighter who was involved in a car accident in the course of responding to an emergency call.
The man was reportedly driving on his way to answer an emergency call from a local fire department, when he neglected to stop at a red light, which resulted in his vehicle colliding into another vehicle carrying two individuals. Those two individuals then filed suit, claiming that the driver was negligent in causing their injuries.
The trial court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the driver was protected from suit by public officer immunity, and that none of the potential exceptions applied in the case. The state’s Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s ruling.
Responding to the arguments of the plaintiffs, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that the driver was in fact acting within the scope of his employment when the collision occurred. They discounted the argument that responding to the call was no different than any other individual commuting to work. In the case of firefighters, once the individual is responding to the call, and thus driving their vehicle, they are subject to the orders and commands of their superiors.
However, the court ultimately ruled that the driver was not entitled to public officer immunity because his acts in proceeding through the stop signal without the use of an audible signal violated a ministerial duty. Ministerial duties are ones, such as traffic laws, which individuals must always obey. Discretionary acts, on the other hand, are protected by immunity and involve government officials and their agents having to make judgment calls. It would make sense that the individuals who are having to make decisions off of the cuff, so to speak, would be subject to the greater legal protection.
The driver’s action thus fell within an exception to official immunity, and the court remanded to the circuit court for a determination regarding whether the driver was in fact negligent. It will therefore fall to the jury to decide whether the man or the fire department will be held liable for the damages caused by the accident.
If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury due to someone else’s negligence, contact the experienced Washington D.C. area personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC immediately. Our attorneys have many years of experience in working with individuals and families who have suffered as a result of the personal injury or wrongful death of a loved one. Our dedicated attorneys have represented families who have suffered as a result of car accidents, medical malpractice, birth injuries, premises liability and other traumatic events. If you believe that your loved one died because of the wrongful or negligent actions of another, please contact the personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen by calling 1-800-654-1949 or by visiting our website, in order to schedule your initial free consultation.
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