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Law School Case Brief

De Long v. Cty. of Erie - 89 A.D.2d 376, 455 N.Y.S.2d 887 (App. Div. 1st Dept. 1982)

Rule:

Where a municipality assumes a duty to a particular person or class of persons, it must perform that duty in a non-negligent manner.

Facts:

Plaintiff's wife was brutally attacked in her home after she had called 911 for assistance in a burglary. The operator took down some information but did not verify the location of the reported crime. Police, not recognizing any such address, thought that the call was a hoax and did not respond. Plaintiff's wife died from injuries in the attack. Police later determined that she received a fatal blow just minutes after her call. Plaintiff then filed a negligence and wrongful death actions against defendants county and city. Defendants argue that in maintaining the 911 emergency call system for the public generally, they assumed no special obligation to protect plaintiff’s wife. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff. The defendants appealed.

Issue:

Did the city and county owe a special duty to the plaintiff’s wife so as to be accountable for negligence in the performance of their duty in operating the 911 emergency system?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court upheld jury verdicts for plaintiff in negligence and wrongful death actions, reasoning that defendant government entities created a special duty of care to people in need of assistance through its 911 service. The Court also upheld damages in the wrongful death claim, allowing expert testimony as to the value of decedent housewife, thus overruling Zaninovich v. American Airlines, 26 AD2d 155.

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