In urban America it is not uncommon to see speeding government vehicles heading toward a variety of locations. Whether the emergency vehicle be a fire truck, an ambulance or police vehicle this is a common day occurrence in places like Atlanta. Regrettably, during some of these responses, the emergency vehicles collide with innocent motorists. When this happens, obviously, the issue is whether there is legal liability for the operator of the emergency vehicle/government.
Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-6, emergency vehicles are permitted to disregard traffic rules and regulations otherwise in place. For example, if the speed limit is 35 miles per hour in a particular location, an emergency vehicle may disregard that speed limit, however, in order to do so, the emergency vehicle should display its lights and sirens and even when doing so must exercise “due regard” for the safety of the motoring public. Regrettably, this is not always done with the foreseeable result that innocent third parties at the wrong place at the wrong time are injured.
If a police vehicle is responding to a radio call for assistance at a suspected scene of a crime and the police vehicle is traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, unless the police vehicle has on emergency lights and siren and is otherwise exercising due regard for the safety of the motoring public, the government entity responsible for its operation can be held liable if an innocent person is injured or killed during a collision caused by the failure to exercise such due regard. Under Georgia law, there is a waiver of sovereign immunity for the negligent operation of governmental vehicles up to a maximum of $750,000.00. While many injuries and deaths due to governmental negligence can result in damages in excess of this statutory limit, nonetheless, currently, this is the extent of the waiver of sovereign immunity when it comes to the negligent operation of government vehicles.
Innocent persons injured during collisions with emergency vehicles do have rights and remedies under the current State of Georgia law. Sovereign immunity no longer absolutely bars such claims as it once did. However, the burden is still upon the innocent party to establish that the emergency vehicle transgressed the boundaries of the liberties given to it under Georgia law by failing to exercise their emergency lights and siren and/or by disregarding the due regard for the safety of the public.