North Carolina Appellate Court Discusses Public Duty Doctrine in Overdose Fatality Case

Drug-related medical emergencies can be stressful situations for everyone involved including first responders. When a first responder fails to follow proper procedures or to take reasonable cautions to ensure that someone who is under the influence receives necessary medical attention, the outcome can be disastrous or even fatal. As seasoned Asheville personal injury lawyers, we have handled numerous cases involving fatalities that result from another person’s negligence. We are standing by and ready to assist you with seeking the compensation that you deserve.

In a recent appellate decision, the court considered whether a trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss a complaint alleging negligence and wrongful death against a local sheriff’s office regarding the death of an individual who had taken several prescription pills. The decedent was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car. A 911 call alerted the sheriff’s office and a deputy and EMS responded to the scene. One of the deputies who arrived canceled the EMS call. The decedent asked the deputy to call one of his friends to pick him up. The friend took the decedent home and put him to bed. He was found deceased in the morning.

The decedent’s estate filed a claim alleging that the Sheriff was negligent in failing to establish appropriate procedures for dealing with drug-related medical emergencies, for not allowing paramedics to respond to the scene, for failing to call for further medical assistance, and for calling a friend instead of someone related by marriage or blood. The complaint also alleged that the office was negligent for not training officers on responding to situations involving substances and for a variety of other allegedly negligent acts based on the public duty doctrine.

This doctrine arises when police powers are the basis of a complaint ad it provides immunity to law enforcement officers for decisions that are made when responding to a criminal situation from civil claims arising from those discretionary decisions. More specifically, it applies when the alleged negligent conduct is based on a discretionary decision that a police officer made.

The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s grant of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, arguing that the claims are not subject to the public duty doctrine. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal, finding that the plaintiff did not properly provide enough facts to show that the sheriff who responded to the call about the decedent being incapacitated in his vehicle was not a discretionary decision made in response to an emergency situation. As an example, the plaintiff did not allege that the sheriff was acting outside the scope of his or her duties at the time the decision was made to cancel the EMS vehicle.

If you were injured as the result of another person’s negligence and have questions about whether you are entitled to compensation, contact our office immediately. Maurer Law’s compassionate and dedicated team of Asheville personal injury lawyers are prepared to help you fight for the outcome that you deserve during this stressful and chaotic time in your life. We provide a free consultation so please call us at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online to set up your appointment.