Austin doctor hurt in ambulance crash fighting city for settlement

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was a Saturday morning in August and the weather was nice enough for Dr. Tobin Lim, 41, to take his motorcycle to work. 

He was headed north on Lamar Blvd to Seton Medical Center when he says an Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance crashed into his motorcycle. 

“We were side by side, literally side by side and she ended up making a left handed turn from the far right lane, which makes no sense to me,” says Dr. Lim. “I remember vehemently screaming through my helmet ‘NO! NO! STOP! Honking and nothing.

The physician was rushed to the ER and needed reconstructive femur surgery. Nails, a rod, and screws are now holding his right femur together. His left arm was also injured. 

The police report says the driver missed her turn and made a lane change so she could make a U-turn, and that’s when she crashed into Dr. Lim. The ambulance did have a patient, but the lights and sirens were not on. 

“After the collision the medics on the units rendered aid to the individual that was on the motorcycle, as per our policies and procedures. Other EMS resources were dispatched to the scene,” explained Commander Eric Gordon with ATCEMS. “When those other resources arrived they took over patient care. So, the medic units that were involved in the collision at that point were taken out of service and were no longer providing any care.”

Commander Gordan investigates fleet collisions. He says every accident is reviewed and they look at all contributing factors including speed, weather conditions, mind set and other stressors that might be involved. 

“We found that this accident was preventable,” explains Commander Gordon. “We learned that we could focus on some re-education for our employee.”

KXAN has learned from the city that more than half of its 204 accidents involving EMS since 2016 could have been prevented. ATCEMS tells KXAN that staff drives about 1.2 million miles a year and responds to about 120,000 calls. Those number are only going up because of growth. 

“We average about 3 a month for our preventable accidents,” says Commander Gordon. “1.2 million miles in a year is a lot of miles and that’s an average of about 40 ambulances on the street at a given time. We look at every opportunity as a learning opportunity no matter what the number is. There is always something we can learn from, and that’s why we track data analysis, and come up with those trends, because we believe driving is one of the most dangerous things we do as first responders. So, we are very tough on ourselves. So, we like to self-evaluate so we could look for those ways to improve on any number that we have.”

Dr. Lim says it’s been tough recovering, but what’s made it harder is trying to get compensated from the city which is self-insured. 

“When a City employee or a City vehicle is involved in a crash, claims for property damage or personal injury are handled through our insurance claims process,” says a spokesperson. “We are in the middle of that process with all the parties involved in the collision.”  

Dr. Lim is now in the process of filing a lawsuit. He says the city is unfairly taking advantage of the state’s tort laws, which puts limits on the amount of money paid out. 

 “They would not compensate me for anything. Property, hospital, livelihood – nothing. In so much, that I’ve had to give them a written list of everything. My own stethoscope that was damaged,” says Dr. Lim. “I still have not received reimbursement for even that… that’s my livelihood.”

City records show that in last three years at least, it’s settled 28 cases involving ATCEMS, which includes all types of claims. The average settlement is less then $6,000. 

“So, I have to be dismembered or be dead in order for the state tort to not be in effect which that makes no sense,” says Dr. Lim. 

As he prepares for another surgery to replace broken hardware in his leg, he says he hopes he doesn’t have to go to court. “I have good faith in the city that the city will make this right” says Dr. Lim. 

The medic was cited with unsafe lane change and paid the $219 ticket. ATCEMS says she’s been with the department five and a half years and did not received any disciplinary action. 

The ambulance did have fender cameras to help with blind spots. Rear facing cameras are already being used. Later this year, 10-percent of the fleet will be equipped with a 360 camera system which includes four cameras that can provide an immediate view around the ambulance. 

The department says a priority is always to focus on education and will be releasing an online video in a few weeks focused on driving safety. 

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