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Fatal house fire, 911 mix-up lead to wrongful death litigation

On Behalf of | Dec 10, 2014 | Firm News, Wrongful Death |


Most Erie residents will likely never find themselves in a situation where they have to dial 911. Upon doing so, callers are generally frightened and confused but nonetheless reassured that help is on its way. In a recent case out of Pennsylvania, though, the connection between a delayed response to a 911 call and the death of a 52-year-old woman has led to a wrongful death lawsuit.

When most people think of

wrongful death litigation

, they may picture a fatal car crash or even a fatal workplace accident. However, whenever there is negligence with fatal consequences there may be legal action centering on wrongful death. In the Pennsylvania case, a woman had called 911 in May of this year to report a house fire. The caller gave her location as “Moc,” then affirmed that it meant “Mocanaqua.” The caller also mentioned “Conyngham Borough,” although Mocanaqua is actually located in the township, not the borough, of the same name.

The mix-up led to a dispatcher’s sending rescue crews to a non-existent address 15 miles away, though the local volunteer fire department was less than a mile from the actual location of the blaze. According to the resulting lawsuit, Luzerne County and its 911 system made a fatal error and should have known that Mocanaqua was located in Conyngham Township. The 911 guidelines for the county distinguish between the township and the borough which share a name, and note that Mocanaqua is located in one and not the other.

According to investigators, the inferno began when the deceased woman’s grandchildren played with a lighter. After putting-out the fire crews located the woman’s body in a room on the home’s upper floor. The local coroner ruled her death accidental and emphasized it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact time of death. The lawsuit, however, claims that the delay in response due to the 911 error led to the woman’s untimely death.

Wrongful death suits can be complicated. In general, one must show that the victim died due to the willfulness or negligence of another, and that the victim’s survivors suffered a financial loss because of that omission or action. Those who need more information about wrongful death suits may want to seek advice, so they understand whether they have a cause of action.

Source:, ”

Pennsylvania family sues county over 911 error

,” Bob Kalinowski, Nov. 29, 2014