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911 Operator Negligence

Can a negligence claim be successfully brought against a 911 operator?  The answer is “yes,” however, it needs to be obvious that a special relationship existed between the plaintiff and the 911 operator.

In a Florida case from 1990, the court found that a special relationship existed between the decedent and the 911 operator when the decedent’s ex-wife called 911 to notify the 911 operator that her ex-husband’s medical condition was worsening. The 911 operator failed to dispatch emergency personnel, even after assuring the ex-wife that help was on the way.

The facts in a recent case were different, however, during which the decedent’s wife called 911 to report that her husband was having a difficult time breathing. The 911 operator advised that help was on the way and began asking questions about the decedent’s condition. After the decedent’s condition worsened, the 911 operator advised the wife to, “just leave him alone,” until help arrived. Emergency personnel arrived and performed CPR but the decedent died.

In the complaint, the wife alleged negligence against the 911 operator, claiming that the operator misled the wife about how serious her husband’s condition was during the call and negligently instructed the wife not to do anything.

Here, the Florida Court held that for there to be a valid claim against the 911 operator for governmental tort liability, there must be either a common law (case law) duty or a duty under a Florida Statute. Governmental tort liability is broken down into four categories:

  • Activities including legislative, permitting and licensing.
  • Enforcement of law and protection of the public safety.

For any activities under these two categories, there is no common law (case law) duty; however, liability can still exist if a special relationship exists between the decedent and the governmental actor.

  • Capital impeachments and property control operators.
  • Providing professional, mechanical and ground services for the health and welfare of citizens.

Under categories three and four, liability exists except for those activities involving planning or judgment.

In the recent Florida case described above, the court inserted the 911 operator’s actions into category three and further found that the plaintiff did not successfully establish a special relationship between the decedent and the 911 operator. Despite no special relationship, the decedent’s wife tried to argue that the 911 operator’s actions increased the risk of harm to her husband because the operator instructed the wife to do nothing until paramedics arrived. However, the court disagreed and found that the 911 operator never controlled the situation and, therefore, did not increase the risk of harm.

As discussed in previous blogs, negligence claims against government entities are often confusing, difficult and met with many roadblocks along the way.

If you, a friend or a loved is injured because of someone else’s negligence or should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Wieland, Hilado & DeLattre, P.A. at (407) 841-7699. For additional resources, keep checking our blog, LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more helpful hints and to always be informed about best practices in law. Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more helpful hints and to always be informed about best practices in law.

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Wieland & DeLattre
226 Hillcrest St.
P.O. Box 944
Orlando, FL 32802

Phone: 407-841-7699
Phone: 321-639-4777
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