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Court concludes ambulance driver was not negligent as a matter of law

In a surprising decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a Boyne City ambulance driver was not negligent, as a matter of law, despite testimony that the operator was traveling 65 miles per hour in the dark on slippery, snow-covered roads.  The panel concluded that the family of a passenger victim of a fatal collision with the ambulance did not create a question of fact with regard to the ambulance driver's negligence, even though the family presented an ambulance passenger's claim of the above speed, along with a contemporaneous statement by a passenger EMT, suggesting that the driver "take it easy". 

The Court cited the ambulance driver's claim that he was only traveling 40 miles per hour one-half mile earlier, and the Michigan emergency vehicle statute allowing the ambulance driver to exceed the speed limit, with lights and siren, if he drove "with due regard for the safety of others".  The Court held that traveling at most only 10 miles per hour above the speed limit, under these weather and emergency conditions, could not support a finding of negligence in the operation of the vehicle. 

It certainly appears that the Court resolved a "genuine issue of material fact", i.e. negligence or due care of the ambulance driver, by its decision:  the evidence was clearly contradictory with regard to the ambulance's speed and the circumstances weighing for or against high speed.  We suspect that factual testimony confirming that the oncoming driver, a 17 year-old, lost control of his car in the path of the ambulance caused the Court to allow summary disposition of a factual claim that it did not respect.  In other words, we suspect that the court was so overwhelmed by the fault of the young driver in the oncoming car that it chose to allow the wrongful death claim against the ambulance driver to be dismissed without a jury decision on the merits.

The case is Estate of Whitman v. Boyne City.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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