Family Files Maryland Wrongful Death Claim Against County for 911 System Outage

In many situations, the victims of negligence may recover their damages by filing a Maryland legal claim against those responsible.  One of the few exceptions concerns governmental immunity.  In a February 22, 2019 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals examined whether a local county could be sued under the circumstances presented in a Maryland wrongful death case.

In the summer of 2016, a 911 call center experienced a service outage in the county that lasted approximately one hour and forty-five minutes.  During the outage, the decedent suffered a medical emergency.  The plaintiffs alleged that they and other friends and family had called 911 repeatedly, for over an hour, but were unable to get through.  Eventually they were connected with emergency services and rescue personal subsequently responded to the scene.  Tragically, the decedent could not be revived, and he passed away.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the county was negligent in maintaining the air conditioning unit that had failed and caused the 911 service outage, which in turn, allegedly caused the decedent’s death.  The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, ruling that the county was immune from suit and that the county officials, named as individual defendants, did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs or the decedent.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the higher court.

In Maryland, a local government is immune from tort liability when it functions in a governmental capacity.  It has no such immunity for its activities that are private or proprietary in nature.  A governmental function is one that is sanctioned by legislative authority, has no element of private interest, and is conducted solely for the public benefit or welfare of the community.  If the municipality receives a profit or has a private stake in the function, it is not governmental.

On appeal, the court concluded that maintenance of the 911 system and its buildings was a governmental function.  The court noted that Maryland law requires each county to operate a 911 system and provide public access to police, fire, and ambulance services through that system.  It was undisputed that the 911 system provides a public safety benefit and promotes the welfare of the public.  The court also found no evidence that the county derived a profit or benefit from the 911 system.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the county was immune from liability for the death of the plaintiffs’ son.

The court went on to hold that because the individual defendants did not create or continue the risk of harm, they owed a duty of ordinary care to the decedent, not an affirmative duty to protect or aid him.  As such, and without evidence of defendants’ failure to exercise ordinary care, negligence could not be established.  The court therefore affirmed the order dismissing the case.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland personal injury lawyers can assist people seeking recourse after an accident caused by negligence.  We can provide legal guidance regarding wrongful death actions, premises liability lawsuits, medical negligence and healthcare claims, auto accident injuries, and more.  Schedule your free consultation today by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiff Wins Case Against County, Police Department After Violent Arrest, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 22, 2018

Maryland Plaintiff Pursues Wrongful Death Claim Against Police for Failing to Investigate 911 Call, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 22, 2018