Geoffrey Trachtenberg Interviewed Regarding Liability for Firetruck / SUV Accident

Phoenix fire engine, SUV collide at intersection, injuring 5

Courtesy of AZCentral.com

Investigators are trying to piece together the circumstances leading to a collision between a sport-utility vehicle and 16-plus-ton fire engine Friday morning in central Phoenix.

Officials said the engine from the fire station near Indian School Road and Fourth Street was responding to a fire at a vacant house at about 3:45a.m. when it collided with the other vehicle. The firetruck had been traveling east on Indian School, and the SUV was going south on Seventh Street.

The SUV spun and ended up on the grounds of a gas station while the fire engine lost control and careened for 200feet before landing on its side on Indian School, just before Eighth Street, officials said.

Officials declined to say how fast the vehicles were traveling.

Four firefighters and the SUV’s driver were injured. The firefighters were released from a hospital with “bumps and bruises.” The medical status of the SUV’s driver was not clear Friday night.

Initial reports indicated the SUV had a green light, but police and fire officials have since said it’s too early in the investigation to determine that.

Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos said witnesses at the scene gave conflicting statements about who had the right of way. Police said investigators would instead rely on security-camera footage and accident reconstruction, among other evidence.

Martos said police ruled out impairment for both drivers.

Matthew Heil, a spokesman for the city’s transportation department, said a worker tested an “emergency-vehicle pre-emption” device at the intersection after the accident and confirmed that it was in working condition. The device detects an oncoming firetruck or ambulance and changes the intersection’s traffic light so that the emergency vehicles have the right of way. The traffic signal for vehicles traveling perpendicular to the emergency vehicle’s path will turn from green to yellow and then to red.

Tony Mure, a Fire Department spokesman, said firetrucks and ambulances utilize a small, white strobe light to trigger the device.

A computer associated with the device then quickly analyzes other factors at the intersection, such as an illuminated crosswalk sign. If a pedestrian is crossing the street in the path of the firetruck or ambulance, the light will not change until the pedestrian has time to get out of the way.

Mure said he does not know how fast the fire engine was traveling but said the department trains its drivers on how to minimize risk on the road.

Geoff Trachtenberg, a partner with Phoenix law firm Levenbaum Trachtenberg, said if the firetruck ran a red light, the city could be liable for damages, but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

“People are sympathetic to firefighters,” said Trachtenberg, who has represented clients involved in crashes with municipally owned vehicles. “I mean, they’re putting their lives in danger.”

“Almost no matter what, there’s going to be an argument from the city that the SUV should have seen or heard (the firetruck),” he added. “This is not going to go down with the city simply saying it’s completely their fault. Even if the lights and siren (weren’t) on, the city would say, ‘Look, it’s a big, red firetruck.’”

On the other hand, if investigators determine the SUV ran the light, he said, “There’s no way he’s going to have a case against the city, and, in fact, the city will probably have a case against him.”