I rarely write about my current cases. However, some cases present special safety issues. Over the last couple years, I’ve represented the family of a paramedic who lost her life while helping another accident victim on the Interstate. This paramedic left behind a beautiful baby girl and a grieving young husband.
The facts are pretty bad. The driver who caused her wrongful death was driving down the Interstate at speeds over 80 miles per hour on an icy, sleeting winter morning. That driver passed a prior accident where a deputy waved for him to slow down. Instead, he sped up. Eventually, he lost control while swerving between lanes. He skidded off the Interstate and onto the shoulder of the roadway where he struck and killed this young paramedic.
Like many drivers who recklessly put our lives in danger, he had very little insurance. This driver was arrested. But, in the end, he suffered very little punishment. And, this grieving family now had to raise a child without a mother’s care, support, or income.
So, we made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage. The ambulance company had insurance and paid additional premiums for this extra coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage is intended to provide compensation for our damages when the negligent or reckless person who caused the injury does not have enough insurance or assets to cover all the damages. This is valuable coverage and I encourage everyone to purchase it. Alabama has one of the highest rates of drivers who are not insured. And, many drivers who do have insurance carry far too little coverage for any significant injury.
Much to my surprise, the insurance company denied this claim. Why? The policy required that our client be "using" the ambulance in order to be covered. The insurance company claimed that since she was outside the ambulance on the shoulder of the roadway she was not actually using it.
We filed suit. We immediately took depositions of the other paramedic at the scene, the deputy who tried to slow the oncoming driver, and the state trooper who investigated this terrible collision. Although this paramedic was outside her assigned ambulance, she was using its lights to warn oncoming traffic. She was using its engine to power her medical equipment. She was using its GPS transmitter so her base could track her. Additionally, she was on a scene with the ambulance and doing her job. After finishing these depositions, we moved the court for summary judgment. The Judge agreed with us and ruled that the insurance company had to provide coverage for her death. Personally, I think it’s outrageous the insurance company would ever claim that a police officer, paramedic, or rescue worker, on an active traffic scene with his/her vehicle, was not using it. I was happy to fight for this family.
First responders (such as police officers, paramedics, and rescue squad members) put their lives in danger every day on the highways of Alabama to protect us. So often, we drive by these safety workers without much thought. Too many people carelessly speed by scenes where responders are present. Like many states, Alabama has what is commonly called a "move-over" law. It’s an important law that prevents further injuries and saves lives. A little extra caution when driving through active scenes is the greatest respect we can show the emergency responders on our highways.