Case Study - Faulty 911 System

Wrongful Death: Failures by 911 Operators and the County’s Emergency Call System Leads to a Fatal Shooting

The emergency call system provides the general public with confidence that when they reach out to 911, help will be on the way. A sense of peace is felt knowing that each of our communities has a system to call for law enforcement or emergency medical aid.

The general public pays for the system with its taxes and we all expect that systems will be run properly and effectively.

Emergency Calls Fail The General Public

Bill and his family lived on the San Juan Islands. They enjoyed the peaceful rural life of the islands, but, as their children grew up and moved inland, they decided to purchase property in Skagit County, to be closer to their children and grandchildren. The property that they purchased was on a peaceful lake.

A long-time resident lived next door. Over time the neighbor began using Bill’s driveway and he began tearing up the gravel and creating potholes. Bill asked him several times to stop using the driveway, but the neighbor would not compile. Finally, Bill put a wire cable across the roadway to prevent the use of his driveway.

The neighbor did not take kindly to the wire cable and yelled at Bill on several occasions. One late sunny afternoon, Bill was reseeding the lawn area of his property, when the neighbor appeared on the property line holding a rifle. Bill continued to ignore him until the neighbor took a shot towards him, which hit a tree. Bill realized that the neighbor was an obvious danger to his life, ran to his garage, and called 911.

Bill told the dispatcher that his neighbor had a rifle, had shot at him and that he was afraid for his life. The dispatcher told Bill that law enforcement and emergency responders were on their way. As time went on, law enforcement did not arrive, and Bill became worried.

Suddenly, the neighbor appeared on Bill’s property and began shooting at Bill who was in the property’s only building, a garage. Bill fearing for his life ran out the back of the garage and up the road. He called 911 again from his cell phone. They could not explain why help had not yet arrived.

The neighbor appeared on the roadway in his car with his rifle sticking out the window. He was racing towards Bill who was running down the road. Like in an old West movie, the neighbor chased Bill and fired at him. A bullet hit Bill, knocking him to the ground. With Bill back on the phone with 911, the neighbor approached Bill and shot him, causing fatal injuries. The failure to respond directly resulted in Bill’s death.

Successful Wrongful Death Action

Bill’s family contacted us asking us to investigate what happened. Why didn’t law enforcement arrive and protect Bill from the neighbor? Our investigation and later depositions of 911 operators determined that the incident had been wrongly dispatched. The 911 operator had simply coded the incident as a dispute between neighbors, which was a common occurrence in the county.

There was no mention that a rifle was involved, that a shot had been fired, or that Bill’s life was in danger. The officer dispatched to the scene did not view the incident as urgent. He did not turn on his lights and siren, he stopped for all traffic lights and traveled at the speed limit.

Filed for Wrongful Death Action

As part of our work on the case, we reenacted the officer’s route to the scene from his dispatched location and established that if the officer had traveled at an urgent rate following dispatch, he would have arrived at the scene and saved Bill’s life.

So many of the losses we handle for our clients are preventable. Losses are caused by unnecessary failures. We all count on 911, the protections and aid that they are to properly dispatch and provide.

Here, the failure was unthinkable for Bill’s family and the greater community.

We ultimately held the 911 operators and the County accountable and responsible for Bill’s death and the losses that his death caused to his family.

A Look at Wrongful Death

Wrongful death occurs when an individual dies because of the negligence or purposeful conduct of another party.

Hire Expert Wrong Death Attorneys

These cases are frequently highly charged and need the assistance of expert attorneys to obtain justice for the victim’s family and loved ones. A wrongful death action aims to seek compensation for the close relatives of the victim. These expenses include but are not limited to funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of love, affection, and companionship.

STATS: 911 Failure and Wrongful Death

The number of 911 failures in the US has surged recently, with 240 occurrences recorded in 2019 alone, according to the National Emergency Number Association. Wrongful death claims stemming from 911 failures are on the rise, with cases involving delayed answers, misrouted calls, and system breakdowns resulting in tragedy.

STATS: County Failure and Wrongful Death

Each year, more than 90,000 deaths occur from medical malpractice alone, not counting the many other causes of death. Cases of local government failure that resulted in wrongful death, such as unsafe road conditions or neglected medical care in district facilities have resulted in significant court settlements and judgments in favor of the victims’ families.

Fatal wrongful death shootings have become a growing problem in recent years, and some law firms specialize in representing victims’ families in these cases. The amount of compensation depends on the severity and circumstances of the case. The lawsuit will pursue and determine the compensation.

Wrongful Death Law Firm to Assist

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or intentional actions of another person, it is important to enlist the help of an experienced wrongful death law firm. With a deep understanding of the legal system, these law firms can help you navigate the complexities of the case and fight for the compensation and justice you deserve.

Look for wrongful death law firms with a track record of dealing with similar cases and a compassionate approach to customer care.

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