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DeLong v. Erie County

    Brief Fact Summary. Emilia DeLong (Ms. DeLong) called 911 and in response to her report of an intruder was assured that help was on the way. Police were directed to an incorrect address and Ms. DeLong was stabbed to death. After Ms. Delong’s death, the Respondents, Dennis S. DeLong, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of DeLong (Respondents), brought suit.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a municipality voluntarily assumes a duty and negligently performs the duty, the municipality may be held liable if its conduct somehow increased the risk to defendant.

    Facts. Ms. DeLong called 911 and reported an intruder attempting to break into her house. The person taking her call assured her that help was on the way, but incorrectly recorded Ms. DeLong’s address. Ms. DeLong was stabbed to death by the intruder. Evidence suggested that her life may have been saved if police had not been misdirected. Respondents brought suit against the Appellants, including Erie County (Appellants).

    Issue. When a municipality assumes a duty to a particular person, is the municipality liable if it fails to perform in a non-negligent manner?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * In addition to incorrectly recording Ms. DeLong’s address, the call taker failed to follow several instructions. Including (i) not asking for the name of the caller; (ii) not determining the exact location of the call; (iii) not addressing the caller by name and (iv) not repeating the address. Additionally, in violation of operating procedures, no follow up action was taken when the report came back as no such address.
    * The establishment of the emergency call system does not create a duty. However, the holding out of the 911 number as one to be called by those in need, Ms. DeLong’s placing of the call in reliance on this and her further reliance when she was assured that help was on the way, does create a duty. The voluntary assumption of a duty to act in this case creates an obligation to act with reasonable care.
    * Respondents remind this Court that failing to provide police protection does not result in liability unless the police conduct in some way increased the risk. While this is true, circumstantial evidence suggests that Ms. DeLong waited in her house for a response to the 911 call, rather than taken other protective measures.

    Discussion. In contrast to the facts in Riss v. City of New York, [22 N.Y.2d 579, 240 N.E.2d 860, 293 N.Y.S.2d 897 (N.Y.appell.1968)] in the present case Respondent voluntarily assumed a duty and its failure to act with reasonable care increased the risk to Ms. Delong.


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