In July 2015 in New Mexico, a 911 dispatcher received a call from a woman attempting to keep her friend alive after he suffered a gunshot wound at a house party. Both the caller and the dispatcher became frustrated and the following conversation ensued:
Caller: I’m keeping him alive…
Dispatcher: Is he not breathing?
Caller: Barely. Take one more breath – there you go, Jaydon…Stay with me, stay with me, ok. Good job, Jaydon.
Dispatcher: Is he breathing?
Caller: He is barely breathing. How many times do I have to f**king tell you?
Dispatcher: Ok, you know what ma’am? You can deal with this yourself. I’m not going to deal with this, ok.
Caller: No! My friend is dying!
The dispatcher abruptly hung up the phone, leaving the caller alone without help. The victim later died from his injuries (KTLA). While this dispatcher was clearly one of the worst, he is not the only one to have left a desperate caller hanging.
Responsibility of 911 Operators
Dispatchers have a high-intensity job, and are required to work well under pressure. However, dispatchers are not just thrown into the job and expected to figure it out. A typical 911 operator goes through 18 weeks of training, not including the annual certification classes to remain certified.
Before they are hired, dispatchers undergo testing, and once they are hired, they receive seven weeks of classroom training, ten weeks of supervised calls, and a week of monitored calls.
Dispatchers are required to ask specific questions, sticking to the script and getting the most essential information first (The Post and Courier).
How 911 Calls Can Go Awry
In the call script above, it appears that the dispatcher just got annoyed and abandoned his caller…and his job duties. Although it would be nice to say that he is the only operator to do so, others have made the news for similar behavior.
A 911 dispatcher in Houston hung up on a witness reporting an armed robbery twice. After an investigation, her employers discovered that she had hung up on thousands of callers. When asked why, she responded that sometimes she just didn’t feel like talking. The store owner who was shot during the armed robbery later died (Washington Post).
Sometimes, specific barriers frustrate 911 dispatchers, leading them to neglect callers. A Massachusetts dispatcher began hanging up on Spanish-speaking callers because she couldn’t understand them. Dispatcher protocol states that she should have gotten a Spanish-speaking translator to facilitate the conversation and help the caller. The dispatcher was placed on leave pending an investigation (Bronx News 12).
Other times, we are reminded that while the job of a 911 dispatcher requires near perfection, dispatchers are indeed human. A veteran dispatcher in St. Louis misheard a caller’s address, resulting in a woman’s murder after police could not get to the correct residence in time. The dispatcher had to go with what she thought she heard, as she couldn’t get the caller back on the phone to repeat or verify the address (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Bad 911 Calls and Liability
After the St. Louis incident mentioned above, the murdered woman’s grandmother sued the dispatcher, the police department, the city, the former police board commissioners, and then-mayor Francis Slay, blaming the woman’s death on the 911 dispatch error. The city and the grandmother reached a $500,000 settlement.
This case demonstrates how cities and dispatchers can be held responsible when they fail to do their job correctly, even when it was an accident. It also demonstrates that many people play a part in 911 calls, and could be considered liable after a call goes awry. The dispatcher may have made an error, but the city and/or police department may also play a role due to ineffective procedures or training.
Over the years, dispatchers, police departments, and cities have been taken to civil court for errors including sending aid to the wrong location, giving harmful directions to the caller, and not sending the police quickly enough.
The scope of a 911 dispatcher’s liability can vary greatly from case to case, and has yet to be well defined. However, to be held liable, a dispatcher does usually have to make a blatant error or demonstrate disregard for the caller. A dispatcher who hangs up on a caller or tells a caller a flat-out lie will most likely be considered negligent.
If you believe you have been a victim of a negligent 911 dispatcher, contact an experienced attorney. A Dallas personal injury lawyer will have the knowledge and resources to gather all of the appropriate evidence to support your claim, and will work to prove that the dispatcher failed to his or her job, resulting in serious consequences for you or your family. Call Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP for a free consultation today at (800) 738-4046.