Fantasy Lawsuit: 911 Operators Calling for Help
Many years ago, Jean Kerr, the author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, wrote a piece containing letters of complaint she should have sent to various companies, but did not. In the spirit of Mrs. Kerr’s daydream, I have a suggestion for a fantasy class action suit. It would work a little differently than a typical suit. The usual class action suit comes about when a group of people is assembled to sue some company claiming some kind of harm caused by that company’s product or service. In this suit, 911 operators should sue those folks who gum up and overwhelm the system by making calls that have nothing to do with genuine emergencies. There are far more of these calls then many people realize. (As I said this is a fantasy, but we can have a little fun devising a plan.)
Now how does one sue a collection of unrelated individuals who do not make up a single entity like a company or organization? Who would pay? A company usually has deep pockets. Well, with a collection of unrelated individuals, it would be like a check when dining out at the restaurant, divvy it up among all the diners, or in this case the defendants. How do we go about collecting the judgment? In the interests of presenting this procedure in an orderly fashion, we’ll take that up later. Let us begin at the beginning.
The first step is NOT to immediately find a lawyer crazy enough to take on this case. In order to bamboozle a lawyer into this scheme the plaintiffs, the 911 operators, would need to go to him or her with a proposal in hand—logistics, possible arguments, a list of folks to be sued. Remember, 911 has recordings and a list of numbers of people who call. In our complaint we do not have to get them all. Some will do, mostly the chronic offenders. Let us start our proposal by sorting these unrelated individuals into groups.
The worst group, and the ones most likely to be criminally prosecuted, is made up of those who deliberately call in phony complaints—just like the juvenile delinquents who yank fire alarms. It would be a delight to make them pay financially as well.
Another, rather bewildering group, is made up of those who call 911 to Ask the Time. In a world full of clocks, watches, cell phones with little digital displays of the time—ditto computers—news stations that blare the time every five minutes, not to mention those phone numbers that still exist to do nothing but provide the time, these helpless people, who, the minute the idea pops into their head that it is time to know the time, have to find it out instantly. It is an emergency. Now. Now. Now.
Another group would be those who call about food, usually, but not restricted to, food found at restaurants. Some call to complain about the quality of the food. Others call to complain about the service. What 911 is supposed to do about either of these problems is not really clear. There are folks who call to ask for advice on recipes, particularly around holidays. Some folks try to place an order with 911. Imagine a conversation.
“Two pizzas, one with extra cheese.”
“Sir, this is 911.”
“The other with extra peppers.”
“Sir, this is 911.”
“Yes. And could you deliver those to ..”
“Sir, this is 911. We do not deliver pizzas. We handle emergencies.”
“This is an emergency. WE—ARE—STARVING.”
“You have to call a pizza place yourself.”
Then there are the drunks. A great many drunks call 911, particularly to report the crime that someone has taken their booze from them. But drunks have other problems. In Roanoke, EMTs arrived at a scene to find that the only problem was the drunk could not find his glasses. But, to be fair, drunks are not always frivolous. Sometimes they are seeking help because they are drunk. One woman driving drunk called to report herself.
Then there was the drunk who, on a bender, wanted to get into a detox facility. One might sympathize that in his inebriated state he did not understand he needed to call a doctor or a medical facility directly rather than 911, except for the fact that he was calling from the house he had broken into looking for booze. This group could be referred to as the DiUIs, Dialing Under the Influence.
Next, we have those looking to go somewhere. Within that collection are two sub-groups, those seeking directions and those seeking transportation.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“I need to get to the airport and I’m running late.”
“Ma’am, please this is 911. You need to call a taxi.”
“I did—an hour ago. They haven’t shown up.”
“Ma’am, aside from the fact that it is a crime to call 911 for anything other than an emergency, we have no taxis.”
“In know, but this is an emergency. I’m going to miss my flight. I thought maybe you could call the taxi company and threaten them.”
“You’re a kind of legal authority. They might believe it if you say there’s this big fine for not sending out their taxis in a timely fashion.”
Another big crowd consists of people who have some complaint about municipal services. They are too lazy, or too incompetent, to find a specific department number, so they call 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“They’re late picking up the trash again.”
“You need to call the health department, ma’am. Trash pick-up is under their department.”
“I am so sick of you city workers passing the buck—It’s not my job.”
“It isn’t my job. My job is to send out help for situations that might endanger life and limb.”
“Trash threatens life and limb. It attracts rats. They’re a health hazard.”
“Do the rats in your neighborhood carry firearms?”
Of course, there would have to be a miscellaneous set for the hodge-podge calls that do not fit tidily into a category. One man wanted to know if he should use hot or cold water for his laundry. In Los Angeles one woman complained about her poodle’s poor pedicure. And, in the realm of repeat offenders, an Alaskan woman was criminally charged because, in the space of four hours, she called nearly one hundred times about a property dispute she was having.
All right, we have some categories. We have plenty of evidence—all the recordings and records kept by 911. They prove who called, what was said, and how many delays there were in answering legitimate calls because the frivolous callers are tying up the lines. Any halfway decent lawyer could make an argument about the detrimental effects inflected by these callers. Yes, all these folks may ask to have their trials severed, i.e. they be tried separately. NO. NO. But dealing with this problem we will leave to the lawyer. After all, we’ve done most of the other planning.
Perhaps, the biggest, most expensive problem would be serving all the legal papers to all the defendants. But collecting the money might prove relatively easy. Add the judgments to their phone bills. Think, with every natural or international disaster, people donate small amounts of money by texting or calling a special number. The phone companies are all ready set up to collect and pass money along. Therefore, the phone company can collect the money, get a fee for their troubles, and then turn the rest of the funds over to the city (or cities) participating in the class action suit. After the lawyers get their cut, the money could be put into the 911-operating budget. Thus, the offenders would be penalized via the instrument they misused in the first place, the phone.
Now whom do the 911 operators call to find a crazy lawyer?