Here is the scenario: an ambulance is rushing to hospital after having picked up a severely injured casualty who is bleeding badly and requires urgent hospital treatment. The ambulance applies its "blues and twos" and at the next junction proceeds through a red traffic signal and hits a car crossing the junction who proceeded on green.

Who is to blame? The answer is the lawyer's favourite reply - it depends on the facts!

In this scenario some key questions need to be considered:

  • Was the ambulance going fast or slow across the junction?
  • If the ambulance exceeded the speed limit, was this necessary in order not to "hinder the use of the vehicle" in its main purpose (to get the casualty to hospital)?
  • What difference would it have made to the casualty if the ambulance had delayed its journey by 2-3 minutes by stopping at the red light?
  • Which driver had the best opportunity to react to the other vehicle?
  • Did the ambulance have both sirens and blue lights operating?
  • How long ago had the traffic signals last changed?
  • Was the traffic busy at the time of the accident?
  • Was the speed of the ambulance such that the driver could easily stop or easily lose control?

If an injured member of the public brings a claim against the driver of an emergency vehicle following a car accident, the Court will need to conduct a careful analysis of the facts.

A Court must find the right balance between recognising the duty of care owed to road users but ensuring that recognition and support is given to the often urgent and extreme situations our emergency services operate under.