Volunteer Firefighter Judy Spencer Died In Somerset Car Accident Involving A Reversing Barker Fire Department Rescue Truck
NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK (August 26, 2021) – A beloved volunteer firefighter for the Hartland Volunteer Fire Company identified as Judy Spencer has tragically died after being hit by a reversing fire truck.
Niagara County fire officials are saying that the accident took place around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Firefighters were responding to a hay bale fire on Quaker Road in Somerset.
Judy Spencer was spotting for a Barker Fire Department rescue truck when it suddenly backed over her. First responders immediately worked to help the victim and an ambulance was called.
Sadly, Judy Spencer was beyond medical help and pronounced dead at the scene. She spent more than 20 years as a volunteer firefighter and was a beloved member of the Hartland Volunteer Fire Company.
Flags were flown at half mast following her death. A full investigation into the tragic accident remains ongoing at this time.
Liability In Somerset Fire Truck Accidents Involving Volunteers
Fire trucks and emergency vehicles pose a number of unique hazards to the public. For starters, they can speed and break other traffic laws on the way to any emergency. They are also extremely heavy with large blind spots. It has been estimated that over the last 10 years there have been around 31,000 accidents that involved fire trucks. There are a number of different factors that could potentially contribute to an accident including:
- Distracted driving
- Driver fatigue
- Failure to check blind spots
- Inclement weather
- Road conditions
Determining liability for any accident can be extremely complex. This is especially true with respect to volunteers that are injured or killed on the job. The line between “volunteer” and “employee” can often get blurry, especially when those volunteers are paid or receiving something of value. As a general principle, employees in New York are barred by statute from bringing civil claims against their employers – with limited exceptions (see e.g., New York State Labor Law § 240/241).
New York Statute (12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 143-3.12(c)(5)) defines a volunteer as “a person who works for the nonprofitmaking institution under no contract of hire, express or implied, and with no promise of compensation, other than reimbursement for expenses as part of the conditions of work.” There are a number of state and federal statutes that regulate liability for accidents that involve volunteer workers.
In 1997 congress passed the federal Volunteer Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1450. The law was designed to encourage volunteerism by eliminating or reducing volunteer’s risk of tort liability. In other words, volunteers working within the course and scope of their volunteer duties typically won’t be personally liable for accidents. This typically doesn’t cover accidents that involve motor vehicles. Moreover, the statute does not provide immunity for nonprofits or corporations that injure volunteers due to their negligent actions. Government agencies, non-profits and corporations will typically take a number of steps to limit their exposure to liability for accidents involving volunteers.
- Training: Volunteers should not be asked to perform seriously dangerous tasks in most circumstances. They should also receive proper training to reduce the likelihood of accidents.
- Liability Waivers: Many government agencies, non-profits and corporations will craft liability waivers and have volunteers sign these when they start. Depending on how well a liability waiver was created it may or may not be enforceable.
Even with a liability waiver government agencies, non-profits and corporations typically aren’t covered in the event of gross negligence. Drivers should always exercise a great deal of caution when backing up their vehicle. Back up accidents are nearly always preventable. New York law requires that no driver shall back up their vehicle unless it can be done safely. When a driver hits a pedestrian while backing up they will typically be considered at fault for the accident.
The family of any volunteer that died in an accident may be able to seek justice through a wrongful death claim. Damages in a civil claim can help cover lost wages, medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of love. It is important that evidence is properly preserved after an accident. Any liability waivers should be thoroughly examined. A personal injury attorney can examine all of the facts of your case free of cost and get you the answers and information you need.
Investigating A Somerset Fire Truck Accident Involving Volunteers
We at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. extend our deepest condolences to the family of Judy Spencer. She worked tirelessly on behalf of her community. This is a great loss for everyone. Any person that may have information about what happened should reach out to authorities as they continue their investigation. It is our sincere hope that measures will be considered to help prevent additional accidents like this. Nearly all back-up collisions are totally preventable when the right safety measures are taken.