Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not required to rescue

This is interesting:
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Dane County and a former 911 dispatcher by the parents of homicide victim Brittany Zimmermann should be dismissed because the county has no constitutional obligation to protect individuals from the acts of others, a response to the lawsuit states.


According to the brief for the dismissal motion, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has said the U.S. Constitution "does not require municipalities to rescue persons in distress." Further, the court said negligence or gross negligence "cannot be the basis for a constitutional violation."
I'm about as far as you can get from being a Constitutional scholar, but my gut is telling me two things here: 1) that the county may be right in that the Constitution does not require governments to provide competent rescue services to its citizens, but that 2) regardless of what has been established by the court, this is a shitty, shitty thing for the county (or any government) to say.

Perhaps the federal lawsuit wasn't the correct course of action for the parents to take in this case, but I think it's pretty clear that serious mistakes were made by both the 911 center and the county officials who dealt with the press and the aftermath. And though nothing can change what happened or make Brittany Zimmermann's parents feel much better, it does seem like some sort of lawsuit is in order here.

It should be a bit of a wake-up call for all of us, though, to read that Dane County doesn't believe it has any real obligation to provide emergency services to its citizens. And if it does deign to provide them, it needn't do so "competently." There is something very wrong with that mentality. If citizens weren't contributing anything to the government--no taxes, no votes, etc.--then this might make more sense. As it stands, though, it's far from comforting to know that the county has so little regard for our safety.

h/t: mal contends at Uppity Wisconsin

UPDATE: On a related note, this potentially intriguing bit of news just popped up on TCT regarding a possible connection between a man recently arrested on kidnapping and sexual assault charges, and the murder of Brittany Zimmermann.


Steve said...

I wonder what they would say, if for instance, a private security force took up arms in Dane county, lets say their number is... 912..

The problem is, they aren't afforded all the things the current govt is to protect us, so either they wouldn't be able to protect us as well, or they would get arrested by the current govt.

You are right, the ruling is nonsense.

John A said...

I think there's a difference between taking that position to avoid a civil rights lawsuit and taking that position in day-to-day activities.

911 works most of the time. Your house is on fire, you call 911 and a fire truck shows up. You're in an accident, dial 911 and a cop shows up shortly.

I'm by no means a gov't apologist, but the Zimmerman case highlighted a flaw at the fringes of the 911 system, or if you prefer, it highlighted the way in which the system has lagged behind technology.

Giving Zimmerman's parents a bunch of money won't help improve the system. It won't do anything other than trigger a cut in gov't services or a hike in taxes.

A lawsuit is not the avenue to take here. Lobbying to improve 911 is the way to go.

Public Enemy's opinion aside, 911 exists to help, and the county is providing compentent rescue services most of the time. The language in the ruling is just legalese to navigate around other legalese.

Emily said...

John - I do hear you. And while I agree that the civil rights lawsuit probably wasn't the appropriate course of action, I'm not entirely convinced that no lawsuit is in order. If there was negligence on the part of the 911 center and/or operator, then the family should absolutely be compensated.

I'm not a fan of the overly litigious culture we've developed for ourselves in the States, but that doesn't mean there aren't times when suing someone is appropriate.

We do have a pretty good emergency response system in Dane County, and I'm thankful for that. And I would very much like to see improvements made to it. Still, legalese or not, the county's formal response to the suit is, you must admit, somewhat alarming.

The Lost Albatross