911 breached duty by sending responders to wrong address

A lawyer arguing that emergency services are not a right might be better off applying negligence theory to house fire that killed a Pa. woman


Incidents like this, the death of a woman in a house fire, are unfortunate and not at all uncommon. Beyond all of the technology, emergency response systems are still operated by humans and humans make mistakes.

I agree with the attorney for the county, emergency services are not a Constitutional right; arguing a Constitutional right violation seems to be a stretch and, at the end of the day, I don’t think that argument will hold. The more appropriate (in my humble opinion) analysis would be a negligence theory.

Breach of duty to respond

The 911 system has a duty to send resources to the correct location. It is a duty the county accepted when the 911 system was created and citizens were told to call 911 in case of emergency. When the 911 operator sent resources to the wrong address, the duty was breached; that seems pretty clear.

The real legal fight will likely be over whether sending the resources to the wrong address was both the actual and proximate cause of the death. A quick look based only on the news report would strongly suggest that. But for the 911 operator who sent the resources to the wrong place, the death would not have occurred as, how, and when it did, thus the county would be an actual cause of death, which is a legal determination for negligence. But we don’t know this for sure, do we?

Furthermore, under a proper negligence analysis, actual cause is not enough. The plaintiff will have to prove that the death was foreseeable; that there were no unforeseeable, superseding, or intervening factors that caused the death despite the delayed response. For that, there will need to be much more investigation.

Another problem the plaintiff will have to overcome is the fact that the dispatcher told everyone to leave the home and the victim didn’t.

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