The Court of Appeals for Summit County found that an action against a village's ambulance team could proceed to trial. In the case of Zivich v. Village of Northfield, an 81 year old woman was killed when her car was struck by an ambulance that had gone through a red light while transporting a patient to the hospital. The Village of Northfield, who employed the driver and his medic partner, claimed that no suit could be maintained because Northfield was immune for this incident. The Village claimed that the driver had activated the siren and lights and exercised proper care on the highway before the collision.
As a political subdivision, the Northfield was covered by a statute that states that political subdivisions are immune when their employees are engaged in a governmental function which includes providing medical, ambulance, and rescue services. However, the court noted that this statute is not absolute. A village like Northfiled can be liable in certain situations where the employee responding in an emergency acts wantonly and has not complied with the statute that requires emergency personnel to slow down as necessary for the safety of other traffic. This statute states that those driving an emergency vehicle must proceed cautiously past red lights or through stop signs and must show due regard for the safety of all persons using the streets.
In this case, there was evidence that the emergency vehicle may have been traveling 30 to 35 mph as it entered the intersection. Witnesses also stated that there were many wide, tall pine trees that obstructed vision for drivers on both streets and that the trees also obstructed the sound of the siren from vehicles approaching the intersection from a 90 degree angle.
The trial court refused to throw the case out of court when the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The court ruled that the case could proceed to trial because there were material facts in dispute as to the ambulance speed, the obstructing trees, and the color of the light. The court of appeals agreed with the trial court and found that a jury might conclude that the ambulance driver's conduct was actually wanton or willful misconduct.