On November 9, 1965, there was a car
accident in Burlington, Vermont involving Samuel Simblest and Joseph Maynard.
Simblest was driving a station wagon in a western direction Maynard was driving
a fire engine in a southern direction in response to an emergency. The accident
occurred on Main Street in the dark at 5:27 pm during a power outage that spanned
the Northeast. The plaintiff claims that the street lights were still working
at the time he entered the intersection and that he had a green light to proceed
with driving. He further claims that he did not see the emergency vehicle until
after he was almost through the intersection and that he did not observe
flashing lights or a siren. The defendant testified that the siren, flashing lights,
headlights, and side lights were all in use at the time of the accident. The defendant
saw the station wagon enter the intersection and swerved to the side to attempt
to avoid the collision. The plaintiff, Simblest, filed a lawsuit against the
defendant, Maynard, for damages from the accident. The result from the jury in
that hearing was unfavorable for the defendant, Maynard, who then motioned for judgement
notwithstanding the verdict. The judge from the district court granted this motion.
The plaintiff, Simblest, appealed this decision and brought it to the U.S. Court
of Appeals. After review, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s
decision to grant the defendant’s motion because all the evidence included in
the trial suggested the plaintiff was negligent and the defendant did not have
the last clear chance to prevent the accident from occurring.
The issue in the review of this case
was whether the fire engine was sounding a siren or displaying its red lights
as it approached the intersection.
The second issue for this case was
whether the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.
The U.S. Court of Appeals held up
the district court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for judgement
notwithstanding the verdict.
The U.S. Court of Appeals also denied
the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the
After reviewing the Vermont Standard,
the judges agreed that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence. The
court listened to the testimony of multiple individuals who were at the
intersection during the time of the accident, and the only person who claims to
have not seen or heard the sirens/lights of the fire engine was the plaintiff.
With that being said, it is the law that if an emergency vehicle is travelling with
its warning signs on, all other vehicles must pull over and come to a complete
stop. This law gives the emergency vehicle full right of way, which means that
even though the plaintiff claims he did not see the flashing lights, since all
other witnesses did, the plaintiff was legally obligated to be out of the fire
Because the plaintiff was charged
with contributory negligence, he was able to request to charge last clear chance
for the defendant. This request was denied because in Vermont, this charge indicates
that the plaintiff did not have enough time to avoid the accident and that
there was sufficient time for the defendant to be able to prevent it. The judges
denied this charge because after listening to the testimony of the witnesses
and considering the speed at which the fire truck was going, it was impossible
and there was not enough time or space for the defendant to prevent the crash.