Court: Questions remain whether dispatchers' conduct lead to death

·2 min read

Jul. 2—The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled there is enough evidence for a jury to determine whether the Howard County 911 dispatch center displayed "wanton misconduct" that led to a Kokomo woman's death in 2015.

Tammy Ford was found dead in her apartment at Terrace Towers after calling 911 to report she was having difficulty breathing.

A dispatcher notified first responders at 1:45 a.m. of Ford's call, but a second dispatcher mistakenly sent responders to Civic Center Tower apartments. After the mistake was corrected, 17 minutes had passed.

Ford did not have a pulse when firefighters and medics found her. She was later pronounced dead at St. Vincent Kokomo.

In April 2016, an estate representing Ford filed a complaint against the county and sought damages under the state's wrongful death statute. The estate argued the county had negligently and carelessly sent the medics to the incorrect address, and that the delay had resulted in Ford's death.

In February 2020, the county filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that it was immune from liability under the state's tort claim act, which provides immunity for a loss arising from the use of 911 systems.

The county said the dispatching error was "simply an honest mistake" and it was immune from the lawsuit.

The estate argued the dispatch center wasn't immune because it had displayed "willful or wanton misconduct," which is an exception to the state's tort law.

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Murry denied the county's request for summary judgement, which would allow her to rule in the county's favor without a trial. She said there were "genuine issues" as to whether dispatchers displayed willful or wanton misconduct.

The county appealed the ruling, which was denied last week by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Judges pointed to an incident report concluding that the failure to dispatch responders to Ford's address played a "big role" in her death. The court also noted the Kokomo police and fire departments had reported problems with the county's dispatch center prior to the incident.

The case will now stay open and could end up in front of a Howard County jury.

Ford's death sparked major criticism in 2015 from police and fire officials, who publicly reprimanded the dispatch center for what they saw as persistent dispatch inefficiencies and a cavalier attitude toward dispatch mistakes.

"We had the tragedy, and if the county dispatch is going to stay at this level of quality, we are going to have more issues," said then-Fire Chief Nick Glover during a county council meeting.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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