Plaintiff called 911 after a burglar broke into her home. The 911 operator recorded plaintiff’s address incorrectly and misdirected the police to a nonexistent address. While waiting for the police response, plaintiff was murdered by the burglar. Plaintiff’s estate brought a wrongful death suit to recover from the failure of a proper police response.
When a relationship exists between the police and an individual that gives rise to a special duty, then a municipality is not immune from suit and may be liable in tort for failure to uphold that duty.
Amalia DeLong (plaintiff) resided at 319 Victoria Boulevard in Kenmore, a suburban community in Erie County, New York. One morning, DeLong dialed 911 on her telephone to solicit the county’s emergency services. She told the operator that she had heard and seen a burglar on her property. In a call that last 14 seconds, DeLong reported that her address was “319 Victoria” and pleaded with the operator to “please come right away.” The operator assured her that help was on the way. However, the operator incorrectly recorded DeLong’s address as “219 Victoria” instead of “319 Victoria.” The police were misdirected to a nonexistent address. Meanwhile, DeLong was stabbed seven times by the burglar and died as a result of her injuries. There was evidence that if there was a proper police response, then DeLong’s life might have been saved. DeLong’s estate brought suit in a wrongful death action against Erie County (defendant), who oversaw the 911 emergency telephone system in Kenmore. The trial jury awarded DeLong’s estate $200,000 in damages. Erie County appealed the jury’s award of damages.
Whether a municipality may be held liable for negligence by failing to fulfill an undertaking to provide police protection?
Yes. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that if there was a proper police response, then DeLong’s life may have been saved. Erie County held out the 911 number as one to be called by someone in need of assistance. By holding out the 911 number as such, Erie County assumed a duty to DeLong. Erie County’s failure to uphold that duty is an act of negligence. The jury’s award for damages is affirmed.
There is a fundamental rule that when a relationship exists between the police and an individual that gives rise to a special duty, then a municipality may be liable in tort for failure to uphold that duty. Here, Erie County assumed a duty to DeLong by holding out the 911 number as one to be called by someone in need of assistance. In addition to mistakenly recording DeLong’s address, the operator also failed in the following respects: (1) he did ask for DeLong’s name; (2) he did not address DeLong by name; (3) he did not determine the location of DeLong’s call; (4) he did not repeat the address; (5) he did not take the proper follow-up action when the report came back that 219 Victoria address was nonexistent. DeLong relied to her ultimate detriment on the assurance of police assistance. Erie County owed a duty to DeLong and by not properly dispatching police protection, the County failed in their duty.