Payment for ambulance, car collision rejected

Herald Staff Writer

A Huntingburg woman whose car mirror was sideswiped by an ambulance believes the Dubois County Commissioners should pay for the damage even though neither driver was ticketed.

The commissioners on Monday rejected Marilyn Hopster’s request, saying it would create a dangerous precedent in which the county would be expected to pay even when it isn’t found at fault. Hopster told the commissioners she may take her case to small claims court.

The crash happened just before 10 a.m. July 17 on Main Street in Ferdinand near 18th Street. The ambulance, driven by Memorial Hospital emergency medical technician Chris Miller, was headed north, and Hopster was driving south in a 2013 Dodge Ram, according to a crash report compiled by the Dubois County Sheriff’s Department.

The ambulance’s extended mirror brushed against the side of Hopster’s pickup, snapping one of her mirrors and scratching her driver’s side window, causing $600 damage. Both vehicles were hugging the centerline, deputy Tom Bell noted in his report.

Suzan Henke, the county’s emergency medical services coordinator, said Miller was not on an emergency call. Ambulances are owned by the county, but EMS workers are hospital employees.

Although neither driver was found at fault, “I feel that I should be compensated,” said Hopster, who argued that Miller should have taken into account the width of his vehicle.

Hopster, who drove a school bus for almost 25 years, said that driving a larger vehicle isn’t the same as getting behind the wheel of a sedan. She believes that Miller, who did not attend Monday’s commissioners meeting, shouldn’t have driven so close to the centerline.

Sheriff Donny Lampert agreed, saying “the evidence leans more against the ambulance because of the type of vehicle.”

“I don’t think anybody’s really at fault,” he said. “This was an accident.”

Still, “we should pay her and move on,” he added.

But County Attorney Art Nordhoff argued otherwise, again noting that there was no declared fault.
“They were both in no man’s land, is what it amounts to,” Nordhoff said. “It’s one of those hazards of driving.”

The commissioners feared that if they pay damages to Hopster, it would lead to a slippery slope.

“You got to be careful because we are county government, and if we start paying claims that our insurance don’t pay, who’s going to be the next person coming in here?” Commissioner Larry Vollmer said.

Commissioner Randy Fleck agreed, saying that if they agreed to pay, “it’s going to open a can of worms.”

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