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City Had No Special Duty to Send Fire Trucks Promptly When 911 Called
Description Appeals court ordered dismissal of suit against city in a case where a child died in a house fire. The neighbors called 911 to report the fire, but the 911 operator waited six minutes to call the fire department. The public duty doctrine was not violated because there was no special duty owed to the home owner.
Topic Torts
Key Words Public Duty Doctrine; Special Duty; 911 Call
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Plaintiff's home was on fire; plaintiff and two of her children went outside, but one child remained inside. Neighbors called 911 to report the fire. The 911 operator waited six minutes to call the fire department. Fire trucks arrived 10 minutes after the 911 calls were made; the child inside the house died. Mother of the deceased child sued the city for negligently violating its duty to respond promptly. The city moved to dismiss. The trial judge refused the dismissal request; the city appealed.
Decision Reversed. "The public duty doctrine ... holds that 'a municipality and its agents act for the benefit of the public, and therefore, there is no liability for the failure to furnish police protection to specific individuals.'" An exception to the doctrine exists when there is some "special duty" between the parties, such as when protection is specifically promised but not delivered. Here there was no special duty created by the 911 operator promising to notify the fire department. To hold otherwise would create a special duty for every 911 call.
Citation Lovelace v. City of Shelby, - S.E.2d - (1999 WL 343720, Ct. App., N.C.)
or
515 S.E.2d 722 (Ct. App., N.C., 1999)

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