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Alicia Suarez Administratrix of the Estate of Sean v. City of Philadelphia et al.

December 14, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


This is a section 1983 and negligence suit brought by Alicia Suarez, as administratrix of her son's estate, against Lawrence Bloomfield, a fire service paramedic ("FSP") and the City of Philadelphia ("City") (collectively "the defendant"). The plaintiff's son, Sean Suarez, died from injuries he sustained when his motorbike crashed into an emergency service vehicle driven by Bloomfield. At the time of the accident, Bloomfield was responding to a 911 call. He had the vehicle's warning lights and siren on, but was driving the wrong way down 30th Street, a one-way street, for approximately three blocks. The accident occurred as Bloomfield crossed the intersection between 30th Street and Dauphin Street. Suarez died several weeks after the accident.

The plaintiff's constitutional claim is based on a "state-created danger" theory of substantive due process. The defendant moved for partial summary judgment on the plaintiff's constitutional claim. The Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts here are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

A. The Accident

On August 27, 2009, Lawrence Bloomfield was operating a Philadelphia Fire Department ambulance, accompanied by FSP Nicole Warriner. At approximately 7:00 p.m. he responded to a 911 call that a 43-year-old woman had fallen. The dispatch records show that the patient was listed as conscious. Pl. Br., Ex. G. Bloomfield was told that she was unconscious. Pl. Br., Ex. A ("Bloomfield Dep.") 69.

Bloomfield activated the lights and sirens on his vehicle. He was proceeding north on 31st Street towards his destination and made a right turn onto West Colona Street. After one block, Bloomfield made an illegal left turn on to 30th Street, a one-way street. There were no other vehicles traveling on the road. Id. 71-75; Pl. Br., Ex. B ("Warriner Dep.") 60.

The parties dispute the point at which Bloomfield became aware he had made an illegal turn. According to Bloomfield, he did not know at the time he turned that 30th Street ran only southbound. Bloomfield Dep. 71-75. There is, however, a clearly marked one-way sign at the intersection of West Colona and 30th Street and cars parked on both sides of 30th Street face southbound, the direction of travel. Pl. Br., Ex. J 1-4. In addition, according to FSP Carter, who worked with Bloomfield for several months, Bloomfield appeared to know the direction of roads in this area. Pl. Br., Ex. D ("Carter Dep.") 21-23.

At some point, Bloomfield realized that he was traveling in the wrong direction on 30th Street. Bloomfield Dep. 81-82; Pl. Br., Ex. L 2-3. Despite knowing he was going the wrong direction, Bloomfield proceeded northbound on 30th Street towards Dauphin Street, passing at least one street where he could have turned off of 30th Street. Bloomfield Dep. 81-82.

The intersection of 30th Street and Dauphin Street is controlled by a traffic light. As Bloomfield approached, the light was green for cars traveling on 30th Street, albeit in the opposite direction of Bloomfield's travel. Bloomfield did not come to a complete stop before entering the intersection, but slowed the vehicle. Bloomfield Dep. 93-96, 134-35.

When Bloomfield entered the intersection, his vehicle was struck on the driver's side door by a motorbike driven by Suarez. Suarez was seriously injured by the crash. Bloomfield attended to Suarez until another emergency vehicle arrived. Carter Dep. 29-30. Suarez died on September 12, 2009.

B. Training of Fire Service Personnel by the City Fire Department Directive 26 deals with the Safe Operation of Fire Vehicles. Among other things, it says:

Companies are not to drive against the normal flow of traffic (buck traffic) when responding to incidents. The only exception will be where fire/smoke is in evidence and no more than ONE FULL BLOCK would be bucked to reach the incident scene.

Def. Br., Ex. D ("Directive 26") ¶ 4.11.10. Directive 26 also says that "nothing in this directive shall be construed to supersede any state/city law, or ordinance." Id. ¶ 1.2. Pennsylvania state law allows drivers responding to an emergency call to "disregard regulations governing direction of movement" so long as siren and warning lights are being used and the driver exercises due regard for safety. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3105 (a)-(c), (e).

Bloomfield received a copy of Directive 26 when he attended the Fire Academy. Bloomfield Dep. 18. Although Bloomfield does not recall receiving classroom training on the Directive, other FSP's did receive classroom training at the Academy on directives. Warriner Dep. 13-14; Pl. Br., Ex. C ("Selby Dep.") 9-10; Carter Dep. 9-10. In addition, training on the directives is required in order to graduate from the Fire Academy. Def. Br., Ex. C ("Wilson Aff.") ¶ 7. Bloomfield also received some road training before becoming a driver. Bloomfield Dep. 20-21.

FSP's are required to participate in station exercises, which include refresher training on the directives and driver awareness training. Wilson Aff. ΒΆ 9; Pl. Br., Ex. N ("Costo Dep.") 15-19. No evidence has been presented on the frequency of these training ...

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