Charges against the City of Baxter ambulance driver charged in a fatal crash in Bondurant have been dismissed.
On June 25, 2008, on the morning of trial, the Polk County Attorney’s office filed its Notice of Intent Not To Prosecute Baxter ambulance driver, Kimberly Milligan, for the charges arising out of the fatal accident that took place at the intersection of Grant Street and Hubbell in Bondurant. Judge Eliza Ovrum granted the State’s Motion to Dismiss and assessed all costs associated with the action against the State.
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State would have been required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Milligan’s operation of the ambulance prior to the collision was reckless and that it amounted to a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.
Iowa law permits the driver of an emergency vehicle to proceed past a stop light and/or exceed the maximum speed limit unless doing so would be reckless. The law specifically states:
1. The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call . . . . may exercise the privileges set forth in this section.
2. The driver of any authorized emergency vehicle, may:
a. Park or stand an authorized emergency vehicle, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter.
b. Disregard laws or regulations governing direction of movement for the minimum distance necessary before an alternative route that conforms to the traffic laws and regulations his available.
3. The driver of a fire department vehicle, police vehicle, or ambulance, or a peace officer riding a police bicycle in the line of duty may do any of the following:
a. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.
b. Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as the driver does not endanger life or property.
The Iowa Supreme Court has held that the standard for imposing responsibility on the driver of an emergency vehicle for accidents arising from these situations is one of recklessness as opposed to ordinary negligence. “Reckless” is defined by Iowa law as “intentionally doing an unreasonable act in disregard of a risk that is known or so obvious that it should have been known making it highly probable that harm would follow.” This is a difficult burden to meet as best demonstrated by the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Bell v. Community Ambulance Service Agency for Northern Des Moines County, where the Supreme Court determined that the Ambulance driver was not legally responsible for the injuries to a driver of another vehicle that pulled out in front of the ambulance at an intersection. The Supreme Court reasoned that because all traffic was stopped and the lane ahead was clear, the driver of the ambulance could not have reasonably be said to have had a conscious knowledge of a dangerous situation. With facts very similar to Ms. Milligan’s case, the Supreme Court reasoned that the driver of the ambulance had no warning or actual knowledge that a dangerous situation was about to be created by the other vehicle drivers actions.