Wash. Supreme Court Allows Wrongful Death Lawsuit to Proceed

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last week that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man who was shot by his neighbor will be allowed to proceed.

According to court records, William Munich was on his own property at Lake Campbell in October 2005 when a neighbor, Marvin Ballsmider, fired a rifle at him. Records indicate that Ballsmider had been drinking and was upset that Munich had asked him not to drive his recreational vehicle on Munich’s land.

Munich, a 63-year-old man, called 911 to report the confrontation with his neighbor and hid in a plane hangar on his own property. There were reportedly vehicles in the hangar that Munich could have used to drive away from the situation, but the 911 operator told the man that a deputy was en-route and Munich agreed to wait for the officer.

Details of Incident that Led to Wrongful Death Suit

According to the lawsuit, the operator failed to label the situation as an emergency when she communicated with the deputy, and he did not arrive as quickly as he could have had he known it was an emergency situation. Munich called 911 again to report that Ballsmider had chased him out of the hangar and that the neighbor was now chasing him in a vehicle and firing the weapon out the window. Munich was shot to death while on the phone with the operator, and the deputy arrived 18 minutes after the initial call.

As a result, the family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Skagit County claiming that the 911 operator’s failure to properly code the call as an emergency situation resulted in the deputy not arriving at the scene in a timely manner. The county reportedly attempted to have the case thrown out, claiming it was immune from the lawsuit under the public duty doctrine (which says the county did not have a special duty to protect Munich more than any other members of the public and was therefore not liable).

The trial court and appeals court responded by declining to dismiss the case, however. The courts claimed that the operator had essentially promised that help was en-route to a high-risk situation and the county had a duty to fulfill that promise. The family will still have to prove that Munich relied on the operator’s promise by staying in the hangar instead of fleeing in a vehicle, and that the county acted negligently in failing to properly code the situation as an emergency.

It would appear that the family’s wrongful death lawsuit does have significant traction with this ruling from the Supreme Court. Now, the biggest obstacle will be for the family to prove that the county acted negligently when the operator failed to properly label the situation as an emergency.

Wrongful Death Attorneys in Washington State

If a loved one has been fatally injured as a result of the negligence of another person or entity, you may have rights to a wrongful death claim. To find the value of your case or to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, contact the Davis Law Group today at 206-727-4000 or contact us online.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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