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April 25, 2023

Vicarious liability of agencies for the alleged negligence of operators of the agency's fire and other emergency vehicles

In recognition of the unique responsibilities placed on fire truck and other emergency vehicle operators to respond quickly to calls for aid, Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104 grants such drivers the "privilege" to proceed past red lights when involved in emergency operations, as long as specified safety precautions are observed and they do not act recklessly.*

With respect to volunteer fire companies, General Municipal Law §205-b makes fire districts vicariously liable "for the negligence of volunteer firefighters" when they operate fire district vehicles in the discharge of their duties.

The issue before the Court of Appeals in this action was whether the relevant statutes authorize a claim against a fire district for the alleged "negligence" of a volunteer firefighter when the firefighter's actions are otherwise privileged and subject to a heightened recklessness standard under Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104.

The Court of Appeals concluded that that imposition of vicarious liability for a driver's negligence within the context of the instant appeal would be contrary to legislative intent, the precedents of the Court of Appeals and general principles of negligence law and vicarious liability.

* See Vehicle and Traffic Law §1104 [a]-[c], [e]).

Click HERE to access the full text of the Court of Appeals' decision posted on the Internet.

 

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