Introduction: Risk management is an area of critical importance for emergency services and public safety agencies, including emergency communication centers. However, almost no information currently exists regarding litigation against, or involving, emergency dispatch.
Objectives: The primary objective in this study was to characterize the most common types of adverse events, actions, and omissions of action that lead to lawsuits against emergency dispatchers and their agencies.
Methods: The study was a systematic literature review. Research and legal document databases were searched systematically for terms relating to emergency dispatch and litigation. The only data collected were publically available records, including legal documents from state, local, and federal case files, and documents pertaining to dispatch litigation obtained from research and news databases.
Results: 84 dispatch-related legal cases were reviewed, of which five were excluded for various reasons. Multiple (two or more) calls was the most common dispatch problem named as the issue in the suit, followed by delayed dispatch or response, customer service issues or mishandled calls, and failure to provide pre-arrival/post-dispatch instructions. A median $1 million settlement or decision was awarded to plaintiffs.
Conclusions: This study identified a number of common and preventable dispatch errors that characterize the majority of lawsuits brought against emergency communication centers. Such problems increasingly leave emergency communication centers open to serious legal liability. Our findings indicate that there exists a clear, expected, and enforceable standard of practice for emergency dispatching, and that this standard is increasingly applied by both the courts and the public in judging the actions of emergency communications centers and individual dispatchers.