Texas Supreme Court holds City maintains immunity after 911 system accidentally disconnected emergency call

City of Dallas v Sanchez, 15-0094 (Tex. July 1, 2016)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case where the Texas Supreme Court holds immunity is not waived due to an alleged malfunction with a dispatch system.

Dallas dispatch received two 9-1-1 emergency calls at the same apartment complex requesting assistance with helping drug-overdosed victims.  EMS erroneously concluded that the two closely timed 9-1-1 calls concerning overdose victims at the same locale were redundant. One was helped, while Sanchez died. In a wrongful-death suit against the City of Dallas, Sanchez’s parents allege the 9-1-1 telephone system malfunctioned and disconnected Sanchez’s call before the responders could establish the overdose reports were not duplicative. The City filed a Rule 91a jurisdictional challenge which the trial court denied and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The City appealed.

The Court reviews the “merits of a Rule 91a motion de novo because the availability of a remedy under the facts alleged is a question of law and the rule’s factual-plausibility standard is akin to a legal-sufficiency review.”  For immunity to be waived under §101.021(2) of the TTCA, “personal injury or death must be proximately caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property.” When a condition or use of property merely furnishes a circumstance “that makes the injury possible,” the condition or use is not a substantial factor in causing the injury.  After analyzing the pleadings, the Court held the alleged telephone-system malfunction was not a proximate cause of Sanchez’s death. “Between the alleged malfunction and Sanchez’s death, emergency responders erroneously concluded separate 9-1-1 calls were redundant and left the apartment complex without checking the specific apartment unit the dispatcher had provided to them. Moreover, approximately six hours passed between the phone malfunction and Sanchez’s death, further attenuating the causal connection. Although disconnection of the telephone call may have contributed to circumstances that delayed potentially life-saving assistance, the malfunction was too attenuated from the cause of Sanchez’s death—a drug overdose—to be a proximate cause.” “Sanchez’s death was caused by drugs, the passage of time, and misinterpretation of information.” The Court rendered judgment and dismissed Sanchez’s claims.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Per curiam opinion. The docket page with attorney information is found here.