911 Operator May Be Liable for Negligent Conduct

By Michael Zerres

Tort Claim Immunity Does Not Apply If Dispatcher Negligently Executed Ministerial Duties

In a recent, non-medical malpractice decision, the Appellate Division ruled that a 911 operator is not immune for his/her negligent conduct in carrying out “ministerial” duties. While not a medical malpractice case, the Court’s decision in Massachi v. AHL Services, 2007 N.J. Super. LEXIS 343 (November 15, 2007) has clear application in such cases.

In Massachi, a City of Newark 911 operator failed to follow written guidelines, and, wrote down incorrect information regarding a kidnapping of a student outside of Seton Hall University. Because of these “ministerial” failures, it was claimed that the kidnapper (the student’s ex-boyfriend) was allowed to escape with the victim, and, later murder the victim in his apartment in Westfield. The Appellate Court concluded that NJSA 59:3-2 (part of the Tort Claims Act) does not exonerate a public employee for negligence arising out of his acts or omissions in carrying out his ministerial functions, i.e., a function performed in a prescribed manner without the need to exercise judgment regarding the task being done.

Applying the Court’s rationale to a potential medical malpractice claim, it would now seem that 911 operators would not be immune under the Tort Claims Act, in the case of a medical emergency, if he/she failed to record data during a 911 call in an accurate matter and/or follow prescribed guidelines, and, such negligence results in a delay that causes the person suffering the medical emergency to suffer harm.

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