Bad Facts = Bad Law? The 9-1-1 Immunity Statute in Play in NJ.

On May 10, 2000, Christopher Honath abducted Shana Massachi at the gates of Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. The abduction was witnessed by two teenagers who appealed for help to a Seton Hall security guard. He refused to help because the abduction did not occur on Seton Hall’ s property. The girls called 911. Two deputy off-duty sheriffs also saw part of the abduction. They too called 911. The 911 operator failed to follow proper protocol in handling/routing the call. As a result, Honath was able to successfully transport Massachi back to his house in Westfield, NJ. At that point, Westfield police arrived on the scene. Despite hearing gunshots inside the house, they refused to enter the house until an emergency response team arrived. When that finally happened, some 30 minutes later, Honath was discovered, dead, but Massachi was still alive, albeit unconscious. She was transported to the hospital where she died from her wounds. A lawsuit resulted. The question presented to the jury was – did the City’s negligent handling of the call contribute to the death? A jury found that it did and awarded more than $5,000,000 in damages. The City appealed and argued that N.J.S.A. 52: 17c-10 (a/k/a/ the 9-1-1 immunity statute) protected the City from a lawsuit when its emergency call center bungled an emergency call. The Appellate Division disagreed — http://pdf.wcmlaw.com/pdf/Massachi.pdf It held that the 911 immunity statute did not immunize the City.

One wonders whether this is a classic case of bad facts making bad law, as you can’t help but feel terrible for Massachi and the comedy (or is it tragedy) of errors that contributed to her death.

For more information about this post, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.