911 Operators: Duty of Care

By on May 2, 2013 - Comments off

Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Department of the California Highway Patrol, (Fifth District, January 23, 2013) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 13 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1839

Six people were killed when a Greyhound bus struck a disabled SUV which had been involved in a single vehicle collision. In the resulting actions for damages, the defendant bus company cross-complained against the California Highway Patrol, contending that CHP 911 operators were negligent in failing to properly report calls from motorists regarding the first accident to highway patrol officers. The cross-complaint alleged that CHP 911 operators had negligently failed to include lane blockage information in their description of the accident, despite the fact that lane blockage is one of the CHP’s highest priorities, and that their error resulted in an unreasonable delay in the CHP’s response. The defendant further alleged that a special relationship existed in that the 911 operators’ assurances that help was on its way lulled the callers into a false sense of security and dissuaded them from rendering further assistance, which could have prevented the second accident.

The CHP demurred to the cross-complaint, contending that it owed no duty to the passengers of the vehicles, in that, inter alia, there was neither a special relationship nor a mandatory duty. The trial court sustained the CHP’s demurrer and the court of appeal affirmed, finding that there was no special relationship, and therefore no duty, because the CHP did not undertake any action that induced detrimental reliance on the part of the bus passengers’ risk of harm:

“Under the good Samaritan doctrine, CHP may have a duty to members of the public to exercise due care when CHP voluntarily assumes a protective duty toward a certain member of the public and undertakes action on behalf of that member thereby inducing reliance, when an express promise to warn of a danger has induced reliance, or when the actions of CHP place a person in peril or increase the risk of harm. . . . Nonfeasance that leaves the citizen in exactly the same position that he or she already occupied cannot support a finding of duty of care. Affirmative conduct or misfeasance on the part of CHP that induces reliance or changes the risk of harm is required.
. . .
Greyhound’s theory expands the special relationship exception whereas California courts have made it plain that the special relationship rule is not expansive but, rather, is narrow and is reserved for a very limited class of unusual cases.

More importantly, CHP did not either induce the bus passengers to rely on CHP to their detriment or increase their risk of harm. The nonfeasance of the CHP 911 operators, i.e., their failure to include the lane blockage information in the dispatch, left the bus passengers in exactly the same position they already occupied. Without detrimental reliance by, or an increase in the risk of harm to, the bus passengers, there is no special relationship.

Further, Greyhound’s claim that, in the absence of the CHP operators’ assurances to the 911 callers, those callers would have stopped and assisted on their own and prevented the bus collision is replete with speculation and conjecture. The 911 callers had no duty to come to the aid of the disabled SUV. . . . Additionally, only three minutes separated the reports of the two accidents. Greyhound’s speculative scenario does not establish a special relationship between CHP and the bus passengers. . . . If we were to accept Greyhound’s argument and find a special relationship under these circumstances, it would serve to make CHP virtually an insurer of safety on the highway instead of an enforcer of the Vehicle Code.”

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