A Santa Ana police officer driving on the wrong side of the street with lights flashing and sirens blaring has suffered critical injuries after he lost control of his cruiser and struck a stopped tow truck during a pursuit. According to a news report in Fox News’ Web site, the officer, who has not been identified, was backing up another officer involved in pursuing a fleeing auto theft suspect.
The police officer reportedly lost control of his patrol car, went on the wrong side of the road and slammed into a tow truck that was stopped and waiting for the police car to pass. The officer was trapped in the vehicle and had to be extricated from his vehicle, the news report said. The auto accident was reportedly a broadside crash and not a head-on collision.
The tow truck driver in this case had pulled over to the side of the road, as was his duty under Vehicle Code Section 21806. So he did the right thing. The law states that as drivers, we must pull over and give right of way to the emergency vehicle – be it a police car, fire truck or ambulance. The driver of the fleeing car may have violated Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 by attempting to evade a police officer, which is a criminal misdemeanor offense. However, it must be noted that this police officer, according to news reports, was not actually pursuing the fleeing driver, but only rushing to provide back-up to another officer who was in hot pursuit.
The police officer might want to sue the driver of the fleeing car, but he may get his suit tossed out if it is based on a claim of negligence. Why? Because of the “Firefighter Rule.” This is an application of the doctrine of the “primary assumption of the risk.” In other words, this is applied to government public safety employees who are injured as a result of the dangers generated by their jobs. Police officers automatically assume a risk when they take on the job because of its inherent danger.
A claim that the fleeing driver in this case was grossly negligent and the police officer was acting within reason might make the driver liable for the crash and the police officer’s injuries if the jury makes a causal connection. But most likely an insurance company would not be required to cover the driver of the fleeing car for his gross negligence. The police officer will most likely receive compensation for the injuries he sustained from the auto accident from his employer, the city of Santa Ana.