In Yang v. Little Rock, City et al, plaintiff, acting as the representative for the estates of his wife and son, provides a detailed and agonizing account of the horrific tragedy that resulted in his wife’s death that same day, and his young son’s two years later.
The greatest challenge in this case will be overcoming governmental immunity, which is afforded to cities and government workers except in limited circumstances. In many ways, we do expect our emergency responders to expect the unexpected. Governments are expected to have in place reasonably effective systems to address emergencies when they arise. There is also an expectation that employees will be properly vetted and trained and that officials will promptly address problems with workers or systems.
In the Yang case, according to court records, the city is accused of breaching these basic duties. Decedent wife’s vehicle slid into an icy pond while she was on her way to drop her young son, 5, off at preschool. She made a desperate call to 911 at 7:55 a.m. The call went to a county dispatcher who then transferred the call to a dispatcher within the city of Little Rock. While emergency medical services crews were dispatched, the police and fire crews were not because the city dispatcher failed to do so right away. It took more than 50 minutes for help to arrive on the scene from the time decedent made that first phone call.
The wife had called her husband to alert him to the problem, and even he arrived before police and fire crews. He contacted 911 but was assured help was on the way. Although a number of bystanders wanted to jump in to help, they were halted by EMS crews, who were instructed to only allow trained fire crews to initiate such a rescue.
Wife was pulled from the water at 8:40 a.m. She was already deceased. The child was found and placed in an ambulance at 9:05 a.m. He did survive initially. However, exposure to freezing water and complications from lack of oxygen resulted in severe neurological problems, and he ultimately died two years later from injuries sustained that day.
Yang alleges in his wrongful death lawsuit the city knew the dispatcher who failed to dispatch police was incompetent and hired her anyway. According to personnel records, that same dispatcher was fired from a similar position in a nearby town just before she was hired by Little Rock. In her previous job, she’d had 15 written complaints from co-workers. There was also at least one supervisor report, two verbal warnings and three written warnings for substandard work.
It’s unclear whether this dispatcher had been performing better with the city, as the city has as of this writing not provided full details of her personnel file to plaintiff. She resigned from her job before the lawsuit was filed.
Plaintiff alleges the city severely underfunded and neglected the 911 program, which contributed to the late response as well.
Following a consultant’s review of the city’s program, city officials decided to increase salary of 911 call center staff, police and firefighters. Part of that review indicated staffing issues resulted in weaker 911 service and that emergency calls often regularly go unanswered.
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Yang v. Little Rock, City et al., Aug. 8, 2015, Circuit Court of Pualski County
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Trucking Company Sued Over Crash That Killed Young Mother, Nov. 19, 2015, Boca Raton Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog