New York Attorney Brian Orlow Comments on Issues of Ambulance Safety

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Brian Orlow, a New York personal injury attorney, discusses issues regarding ambulance safety.

In early November, a city sanitation truck collided with a fire department ambulance in Brooklyn, injuring two sanitation workers and two paramedics. The New York Daily News reported on November 12, 2013 that the injuries were not life-threatening and that the ambulance had been hurrying to respond to a call of cardiac arrest. Ambulance crashes occur with alarming frequency. Personal injury attorney Brian Orlow noted that “a quick Google search yields an astonishing number of stories about collisions between ambulances and other vehicles. Obviously, there are serious safety concerns involving ambulances that need to be evaluated and addressed.”

According to a November 12, 2009 posting on EMSWorld, it is difficult to calculate the frequency of ambulance-involved crashes across the U.S. Documentation of these events varies from state to state, but the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration places the number at more than 8,500 per year.

Ambulance workers, also known as prehospital personnel, are at greater risk of injury than patients, pedestrians, and occupants of other vehicles. An August 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that ambulance personnel often ride without restraints in order to reach patients, stand up, lean forward, or change positions. As a result, they are in danger of striking shelves, cabinets, bulkheads and other vehicle occupants. Due to ambulance crashes, emergency medical services (EMS) workers have a disproportionately high fatality rate compared to other types of workers.

“Ambulances are large, heavy vehicles with limited handling capabilities,” said attorney Orlow. “They can do an awful lot of damage if they hit something. We understand that EMS has a very important job to do. But their efforts shouldn’t come at a cost to the lives of pedestrians and other drivers. If ambulance operators behave negligently or recklessly, they should be held accountable.”

An October, 2010 article by Teri Sanddal et al and appearing in Emergency Medical International states that alcohol and/or drug use by civilian drivers and, to a lesser extent, ambulance operators, contributes to the collision rate. Further, there is some controversy about unrestricted use of warning lights and sirens. Med-X Medical Management Services reports that ambulance drivers may wrongly believe that use of warning devices permits them to ignore the rules of the road, disregard traffic signs and signals, and drive against traffic. A majority of ambulance collisions occur at intersections where lights and sirens fail to adequately warn other motorists of the ambulance’s speed and intended route. It is debatable whether higher rates of speed associated with use of lights and sirens result in better patient outcomes or actually increase the rate and severity of accidents. Another cause of crashes, identified by David Lemonick in the Winter 2009 American Journal of Clinical Medicine, is the “wake effect.” These accidents, believed to be more frequent than ambulance crashes, occur when a speeding ambulance, blaring sirens and flashing lights, causes other vehicles to collide with each other after the ambulance has passed.

Ambulance crashes can be quite complicated as well as tragic. Often, when other vehicles are involved, it is difficult to determine who is at fault. If you or a loved one has been injured in an ambulance accident, contact the Orlow firm for a free consultation. They operate three offices across New York City for your convenience. They can go to you if you cannot come to them. To contact the Orlow firm, call 866-959-7202.

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Steve Orlow
The ORLOW Firm | Personal Injury Attorneys serving New York City since 1981
since: 11/2010
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