Imagine this scenario if you will. There is a man in your house, high on bath salts and acting erratically. You are scared, and summon law enforcement by calling 911. The responding deputy is attacked and injured by the man, who is ultimately shot and killed when he reaches for the deputy’s gun.
Then the injured deputy sues you for bringing him in to a dangerous situation that caused him injury. Specifically, he claims you were not clear enough with 911 dispatchers regarding the dangers that awaited him.
Well, here is a clue, deputy. She called 911, which is generally what one does in times of distress.
The sheriff who employs this deputy calls the lawsuit “unprecedented”. I would call it a terminable offense.
Harris County Sheriff’s deputy Brady Pullen is suing Camina Figueroa after a 911 call she placed brought him to her home in Katy, TX. Pullen was apparently attacked by a man in her home who allegedly was high on bath salts.
Pullen is alleging Figueroa was “negligent because she knew the man’s mental state rendered him a danger to others”. The lawsuit says Pullen suffered a broken nose, concussion, lacerations and bruises in the attack.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia would only say of the lawsuit that it is “unprecedented”, adding, “We’re allowing our legal staff to manage this case and we’ll see where it takes us.”
We all certainly appreciate the dangers our first responders face, and recognize we have an obligation to provide them excellent care if they are hurt on the job. However, I must point out that these people enter these professions fully aware of the potential dangers. If they do not have the capacity to comprehend that, then we have much bigger problems.
911 only works because the people using it have faith in the response it will deliver. It is an emergency dispatch service. We cannot always expect the people using it to be calm, rational or highly informative. Indeed, a skilled 911 dispatcher can be quite useful in helping the person to remain calm and guide the conversation to gain as much situational intelligence as possible, but they will not always be able to do so. Deputies and other first responders should understand that, or find another line of work.
Imagine a world where you could be readily sued for summoning emergency help. It would certainly give one pause, and perhaps prevent them from making a call that would save their lives in certain situations. The system only works when there are no deterrents for using it, and potential lawsuits of this nature certainly present a roadblock to that trust.
I readily admit I do not know the specifics of this particular 911 call. Perhaps the woman blatantly lied, and gave the dispatcher information equivalent to “my cat is in a tree”. If she indeed intentionally misled the dispatchers about the nature of the call, I would suggest that is a criminal matter, not a civil one. The deputy is trained to enter every single encounter as if he is in potential danger, and cannot – indeed should not – solely rely on information provided through third parties.
In the end, successfully suing over a lack of information in a panicked 911 call will result in far less information being provided 911 in the future. If you need to call 911 in Harris County, Texas, you’d better call your lawyer first.