Government immunity left a mom stuck with bills

Government immunity left a mom stuck with bills

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A young mother on her way to work barely survived a horrible crash involving a Blue Ash fire truck.

While the crash wasn't her fault, she's left with permanent injuries and no way to pay the bills.

It was just after 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 31, 2016. A crew from Blue Ash Fire Department responded to an accident on the Ronald Reagan Highway.

They don't know it, but they're about to be involved in an awful crash themselves at the intersection of Kenwood and Pfeiffer roads.

The crash nearly claimed the life of young mother Kali Pitzer. "I was surprised when I seen my car for the first time that I actually lived through this"

Cameras in and on the fire truck captured the seconds leading up to the crash as the truck slowed at a red light on Kenwood, moved left of center, then sped up through the intersection.

Also captured: the impact between the 27.5-ton fire truck and Pitzer's one-ton Chevrolet Cavalier. “I was T-boned by a fire truck.”

The fire truck hit the driver's door, fracturing Pitzer's spine, hip and pelvis and leaving her with a long list of internal injuries and brain trauma.

Pitzer: There for a long time I didn't even remember who my kids were or who I was.

Duane Pohlman: Do you know who you are now?

Pitzer: Yes.

The crash left Pitzer’s life shattered too -- in debt and in collection on nearly every bill. "My car is still wrecked; my credit's ruined.”

And she's dealing with long-term health issues. “I have daily chronic pain, and I know that it's going to just get worse as I get older. And my memory issues -- I have memory issues. Short-term.”

To try and recover her losses, Pitzer sued the City of Blue Ash in Hamilton County court, claiming the fire crew "negligently and recklessly" ... "caused the violent collision."

But the City of Blue Ash filed a motion for summary judgement, claiming the firefighter driving the truck was "not negligent" and that, under Ohio law, he and the firefighters are "immune from liability."

The judge dismissed the case. Pitzer's lawyer Darrin Nye is appealing. "This is a situation where it's David vs. Goliath, and David lost unfortunately.”

“Our hope is that the court of appeals looks at it and feels that there's some issue of material fact that would allow the case to go forward,” said Nye.

I asked for an on-camera interview with the Blue Ash fire chief.

I received a statement from the Blue Ash public relations and community coordinator who stated, in part, "Video of the accident confirms the fire lieutenant followed policy. The lieutenant took multiple steps to ensure the safety of nearby drivers, including cautiously entering the cleared intersection with lights, sirens and the air horn activated."

But, as our Local 12 investigation with more than a dozen reports dating back more than a year has shown, courts across Ohio are siding with the cities when they claim immunity.

From Cincinnati, where a police cruiser crashed into a parked car. To Dayton, where a cruiser without lights and sirens struck a woman in her wheelchair.

Attorneys fighting cities on damage claims say the immunity claim is becoming insurmountable.

Duane Pohlman: Is this right?

Paul Pfeifer: Well, it's legally correct, perhaps. I maintain and still believe passionately that it's not right.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer has long-stated that sovereign immunity should not be given to cities because, he argues, it violates the highest law of the land.

Duane Pohlman: So you believe it's unconstitutional?

Pfeifer: Yes, I believe it's unconstitutional. I've said that and said it repeatedly.

But immunity continues, and cities are increasingly claiming it and winning in the courts.

“I had the right of way; I had a green light,” Pitzer said.

Pitzer, who was not cited, says she's stunned that being in the right doesn't matter when it comes to sovereign immunity. “Where’s the morals? That's what I'm asking. Where's the morals?”

The City of Blue Ash billed Pitzer for the damages to that fire truck and her insurance paid, but never paid for the damages to her car.

In Pitzer's case, she had liability coverage only. But attorneys told Local 12 many insurance companies won't pay even if you have full coverage.

Former Justice Pfeifer said you'd be better off getting hit by an uninsured driver than a government vehicle.

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