Kilkenny, Labrecque and Leonard.
[109 NJSuper Page 394] Defendants Collings Lakes Ambulance Association and Claire S. Halliwell appeal from a judgment in
favor of plaintiffs April, d/b/a Morris April Brothers (April) following a jury trial, and from the denial of their motion for a new trial or for judgment n.o.v.
Plaintiffs sued for property damage to their tractor and trailer and other consequential damage resulting from a collision which occurred at the intersection of State Highway Route 54 and Jackson Road in Buena Vista Township, Atlantic County. On July 25, 1966, as the tractor-trailer was being driven north on Route 54 by April's employee, Morgan R. Pierce, it collided with an ambulance owned by Collings Lakes Ambulance Association and driven by Claire S. Halliwell. Jackson Road, on which the ambulance had been proceeding easterly, was a stop street. The ambulance had stopped and then started up, and was approximately three-quarters of the way across the intersection when it was struck on the rear part of the right side.
Route 54 was a two-lane concrete highway, each lane being nine feet wide. It had ten-foot shoulders of oil and stone composition. A white line marked the division between the concrete traveled portion and the shoulders. Jackson Road was approximately 30 feet wide and crossed at approximately a right angle. There were no traffic control devices except the stop signs on Jackson Road. The day was clear and the road dry.
At the time of the accident a third car, a Hillman station wagon which had been proceeding two cars ahead of the tractor-trailer, had stopped with its left-turn signal on preparatory to turning left (west) into Jackson Road. At that time the ambulance was stopped on Jackson Road, its red light flashing and siren operating. Mrs. Halliwell then started across and the collision occurred as the tractor-trailer pulled past the stopped station wagon on its right.
Pierce testified that just as he proceeded to go around the station wagon, the ambulance suddenly "shot across" in front of him, leaving him no alternative but to strike it. He had previously "spotted" the ambulance parked at the
stop sign with its red light flashing, but he did not hear a siren blowing. The driver of the ambulance testified that after stopping she made observations and saw no vehicle to her right except the stopped station wagon. She then proceeded to cross and did not observe the tractor-trailer until almost the instant she was struck.
Defendants argue that it was error to deny their motion for dismissal and for judgment in their favor; that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence, and that there was error in the charge.
Our review of the record convinces us that, in the context of the proofs, the issues of negligence, contributory negligence and proximate cause were for the jury rather than the court. Fox v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. , 84 N.J. Law 726, 728 (E. & A. 1913); Pollack v. N.J. Bell Telephone Co. , 116 N.J. Law 28 (Sup. Ct. 1935). It follows that the motions to dismiss and for judgment in favor of defendants were properly denied.
In support of their contention that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence and should have been set aside defendants, in effect, argue that they were guilty of no negligence since the ambulance was being operated on official business with its siren and flasher operating, and hence was entitled to the right-of-way. N.J.S.A. 39:4-91. Not so. As was said in Finderne Engine Co. v. Morgan Trucking Co. , 98 N.J. Super. 421 (App. Div. 1968):
[T]he exigencies of an emergency may require the operator of an emergency vehicle to take such risks as going through a red light, proceeding above fixed speed limits and driving on the wrong side of the road (but giving appropriate warnings), so that none of these maneuvers would be attended per se by the normal inference of negligent conduct. On the other hand, as well stated in City of Baltimore v. Fire Insurance Salvage Corps. , 219 Md. 75, 148 A. 2 d 444, 448 (Ct. App. 1959), emergency vehicles taking such risks "are bound to exercise reasonable precautions [not necessarily fulfilled by the statutory sirens and ...