Court limits lawsuits against 911 operators
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Crime and accident victims do not have an
automatic right to sue 911 operators and dispatchers for damages
resulting from negligent performance of their duties, the Court of
Appeals ruled.
The court said Monday in a six-to-one ruling that lawsuits can
be pursued in some circumstances if victims can prove that a
special relationship existed with the dispatcher. But the judges
rejected claims in two suits filed by mothers who said mistakes by
911 operators contributed to the death of their children.
One of the suits was filed by Sarah Fried, whose daughter,
Tiffany Fouts, died of hypothermia in Harford County in 1995.
According to the appeals court opinion, the girl became
semiconscious after drinking alcohol in a private home with another
girl and four boys, all minors. After she was sexually assaulted,
two of the boys dragged her outside and left her lying in nearby
One of the boys then called to report her location behind "K"
Court, but the dispatcher sent a sheriff's deputy to search the
area behind "J" Court. Police could not find her, and she died of
exposure to the cold November rain.
In the second case, Sriyani Muthukumarana was talking to a 911
aide in Montgomery County in 1998 about an assault by her husband
when he came back downstairs with a gun and killed two of their
children before killing himself. She said the aide was negligent in
not telling her to leave the house immediately with the children.
The Court of Appeals said emergency telephone system employees
do not have immunity from lawsuits. But the majority said
plaintiffs can successfully sue for negligence only if they can
prove they have a special relationship with the employee that
"involves more than general actions taken to serve members of the
public at large in need of emergency telephone services."
"To do otherwise ... might jeopardize the availability of those
services in the first instance," the opinion said.
Chief Judge Robert Bell, in a dissent, said the majority
position was "nonsensical."
"I have not the slightest doubt that 911 operators in these
cases owed the victims in these cases a duty of care," he said.
Bell said he believes that "a special relationship is created
when a caller calls 911 to report an emergency...."
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(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press