Torts II, Pages 686–688

DeLong v. Erie County

New York Court Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 1982

Facts:

Plaintiff's wife called 911 due to burglar in their house. The 911 dispatcher said he would send police right away, but failed to get the name of the caller and wrote down the address incorrectly, failing protocol to repeat both back to the caller. Furthermore, after the address came back as non-existent, the police dispatcher treated the call as fake instead of notifying the 911 dispatcher or lieutenant as required. Due to these failures, police did not respond to the correct address, and plaintiff's wife was stabbed to death by the intruder.

Procedural History:

Jury awarded $200,000 for pain and suffering.

Issue:

Does a county owe a duty to a 911 caller who is falsely told police will be sent right away?

Rule:

There is no tort liability for police protection to members of the public, but there is to people police undertake responsibilities towards and expose to danger without adequate protection.

Reasoning:

The deceased was told that help would come "right away." This is not just failure to furnish protection but assuming a duty to perform in a nonnegligent manner towards her. The taking of the call, telling the police dispatcher and telling police cars were affirmative actions "setting the emergency machinery in motion." Evidence shows that the deceased relied on this assurance and exposed herself to further risk by waiting for help instead of running out of the house.

Holding:

Yes, a 911 service is liable for giving false assurances that people rely on to their detriment. Affirmed with costs.

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