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WOLFE v. PITTSBURGH (05/25/53)

May 25, 1953

WOLFE
v.
PITTSBURGH, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 8, March T., 1953, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, July T., 1949, No. 2921, in case of Harold Wolfe v. City of Pittsburgh. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

James G. Legnard, Assistant City Solicitor, with him Anne X. Alpern, City Solicitor, for appellant.

Paul J. McArdle, with him James P. McArdle and John Duggan, Jr., for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 373 Pa. Page 627]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On December 27, 1948, the plaintiff Harold Wolfe was injured when the automobile in which he was travelling westwardly on Duquesne Avenue came into collision with a patrol truck of the City of Pittsburgh travelling northwardly on Seventh Avenue. In the trial of the lawsuit resulting from this accident the plaintiff recovered a verdict of $5,000, and the defendant has appealed, urging judgment n.o.v.

The only difference between this case and the usual intersection vehicular crash is that here the defendant's vehicle, sometimes referred to as a "Black Maria," was transporting an injured person to a hospital. While functioning as an ambulance, a Black Maria (and this is true also of fire vehicles) is not held to the same limitations imposed on civilian cars and may thus ignore speed limits, signal lights and through stop signs, but these exemptions are conditioned upon the vehicle being operated "with due regard for safety" and they do not protect the driver "from the consequences of a reckless disregard of the safety of others," or "from the consequence of an arbitrary exercise of (the) right of way."*fn1

Thus, in Mansfield v. Philadelphia, 352 Pa. 199, this Court declared: "While, as previously stated, a fire vehicle

[ 373 Pa. Page 628]

    is not ordinarily limited as to speed and is permitted to run through a red light, certainly recklessness of operation cannot be denied if, in exercising those prerogatives, it fails to give due warning of its approach and if the operator pays no attention whatever to the traffic which is crossing an intersecting street; moreover, he cannot be heard to say that he did not see what must have been clearly visible to him had he looked."

The Superior Court laid down the same rule in LaMarra v. Adam, 164 Pa. Superior Ct. 268: "The fact that the police officer was engaged in the performance of his duties did not relieve him of the duty of care at intersections, nor absolve the city from liability for his negligence in the course of duty."

Even though transporting and injured person, the driver of an ambulance may not drive pell mell into heavy traffic, jeopardizing life and limb of pedestrians and other motorists. Humanity would not be served if, in the attempted saving of the life of one patient, several other innocent persons were killed -- and the life of the original patient lost, in addition. Hence, the need from ambulances for spectacular and ...


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