When one is in a dangerous situation, the idea that emergency dispatchers are usually only minutes away can bring a sense of security. Unfortunately, the staff employed in these vital call centers have been known to make errors in judgment that can delay the dispatch of police and rescue crews. Recently, the city of New Haven, Connecticut, found itself the subject of a lawsuit after it was alleged that a call center inappropriately delayed help during an incident that resulted in a woman suffering fatal animal bites.
The fatal attack occurred in June of 2016, and the victim died of her physical wounds shortly after the mauling. According to court records, there were multiple calls placed several minutes apart to the New Haven 911 Public Service Answering Point center. The first caller was reportedly not in the immediate vicinity of the attack and was attempting to summon help based on the 53-year-old woman's screams and barking from the attacking dogs. The dispatcher purportedly asked a few questions to gather details and then categorized the call as a lower priority.
A second caller provided more specific details approximately seven minutes later. The dispatcher stated that police would be dispatched as soon as possible. However, the suit claims that the employee neglected to act promptly in sending police and that the more than 15-minute delay amounted to fatal negligence on the part of the city.
City officials have not publicly commented on the lawsuit, but it has enacted changes in the way these types of calls are handled going forward. City lawmakers are also working to revise its animal ordinances. Connecticut is a strict liability state which holds owners liable for the damages that their pets cause through unprovoked animal bites. Residents who suffer serious injuries that were inflicted by a pet may seek restitution for the damages they incurred through the state's civil courts.