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Dutch couple awarded after motorcycle collides with Arlee ambulance

POLSON — Two Dutch retirees who were riding a motorcycle in the Mission Valley in the summer of 2015 got some relief recently when District Court Judge James A. Manley awarded them partial summary judgment for $43,820 in medical bills.

The couple, Jan and Henderika Haddenringh, were riding a motorcycle north on U.S. 93 on June 30, 2015 when they ran into the right rear of a southbound Arlee Fire District ambulance that had turned east off U.S. 93 onto Lumpry Road, according to court documents.

The ambulance, which was being driven by longtime volunteer James Craig Thornton, was responding to a call for service. According to court documents, he left the scene of the motorcycle accident to render aid to a woman who was later evacuated by helicopter. Thornton then returned to the scene.

In an order signed Jan. 27, Manley determined that Thornton was negligent for failure to yield the right-of-way to the Haddenringhs, who were part of a 20-motorcycle convoy of Dutch tourists.

Manley ruled that Thornton is liable and that his insurer should pay the Haddenringhs, who suffered significant injuries, according to Manley. Manley also ruled that Arlee Fire District is vicariously liable for Thornton’s negligence.

Manley determined that the Haddenringhs, who were riding on the same motorcycle, were not negligent. Manley also found Thornton negligent for leaving the scene.

A trial for other monetary awards, including permanent impairment, pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc., is scheduled for March 6.

One of the key issues in the case revolved around the use of ambulance lights and siren. Thornton had the vehicle’s lights on at the time of the accident, but not the siren.

In explaining his decision, Manley said that one section of state law requires emergency personnel to use audible and visual equipment, while another requires them to use audible or visual equipment. Manley believes the Legislature’s intent was to require use of both as it pertains to the “right-of-way shift rule.”

Thornton, who has been driving for the Arlee Fire District for 20 years and responds to 100 to 120 calls a year, was cited for failure to yield and leaving the scene of an accident by a Montana State Trooper, but according to a court document, had not been convicted. Manley ruled and both parties agreed that the citation was irrelevant.

According to a court document, Thornton didn’t believe the injuries to the Haddenringhs were life threatening and said he was faced with a difficult choice that he called “one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do.” He had turned left after one or two motorcycles had passed, and believed another emergency vehicle was coming behind him to render aid to the Haddenringhs. (It is unclear whether any came.)

Thornton rendered life saving medical care to a woman before returning to the scene of the motorcycle accident, a court document states.

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