In a tragic story, an Albuquerque teen was shot at a party and his friend called 911. The girl who called became exasperated by the dispatcher’s repetitive questions. The dispatcher responded to the girl’s exasperation by saying, “Ok, you know what, ma’am? You can deal with [this] yourself. I’m not going to deal with this, ok.” The dispatcher then hung up on her, and her friend was pronounced dead at a hospital.
This leads to the question: Can 911 operators be held liable for either not responding to complaints or providing inadequate help?
In this case, the dispatcher, firefighter Matthew Sanchez, had already sent fire department units in response to the call and it is unclear whether hanging up on Esperanza Quintero had any impact on whether her friend, Jaydon Chavez-Silver, would’ve lived or died.
A partial transcript of the 911 callreads:
Caller: (inaudible) I’m keeping him alive.
Sanchez: Is he not breathing?
Caller: Barely. (inaudible) Stay with me. Stay with me, ok. Good job Jaydon.
Sanchez: Is he breathing?
Caller: He’s barely breathing. How many times do I have to f—-ing tell you?
Sanchez: Ok, do you know what, ma’am? You can deal with [this] yourself. I’m not going to deal with this, ok.
Caller: No, he’s going to die.
That’s when Sanchez terminated the call. He has since been reassigned from the dispatch center pending an investigation.
Aside from his administrative punishment, Sanchez probably won’t face any civil liability. Generally, police have no duty to protect people from crime, and some state courts have rules that 911 dispatchers are immune to lawsuits. Even first responders have some immunity for rescues gone wrong. So it is unlikely that Chavez-Silver’s family could file a wrongful death claim against Sanchez or the fire department.
Whether Sanchez’s actions on the phone rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct, thus allowing Quintero to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress, however, remains to be seen.
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, you may want to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.