OCEAN CITY – Less than three weeks after Ocean City emergency services department filed a motion to dismiss the $20 million civil suit filed against them by the family of two Pennsylvania tourists who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a resort motel room in June 2006, the plaintiffs in the case fired back the very reasons outlined for the dismissal were reason enough for the case to move forward.
In June, Yvonne and Morgan Boughter, surviving family members of the pair of tourists who perished from carbon monoxide poisoning at the Days Inn on the Boardwalk in Ocean City in June 2006, filed suit in federal court against the town of Ocean City’s Department of Emergency Services-Fire/EMS Division along with five individual defendants for failing to respond to their first 911 call at 9:43 a.m. that fateful morning.
According to the complaint, Ocean City EMTs responded to similar call from a family in two adjacent rooms and rendered treatment and transported patients afflicted with CO poisoning, but never responded to Room 121 where the Boughter family was staying.
Last month, the defendants responded with a motion to dismiss the case, citing a variety of reasons, chief among them the notion the defendants owed no affirmative duty of care to the plaintiffs. Basically, the motion to dismiss asserts because the paramedics never made contact with the Boughters in Room 121, no “special relationship” with the victims was ever forged and, therefore, the EMTs had no liability to provide care to the family afflicted with CO poisoning in that room.
“In the present case, there was never a custodial relationship between the EMTs and the Boughters,” the town’s motion to dismiss the case reads. “While the EMTs were dispatched to the room where the Boughters were in peril, they never administered any care, custody or control over the Bougthers’ situation.”
In essence, the town is claiming because no contact was ever made with the Boughters on the morning of the incident, a “special relationship” was never established with the family, and consequently, the defendants have no liability for their care and protection.
While there is considerable case law to support the defendants’ position, the plaintiffs assert the very reasons upon which the town bases its motion for dismissal are reason enough for the case to move forward.
The case raised interesting questions about liability for emergency responders and its result could set a new precedent. In their answer to the town’s motion to dismiss the case, the plaintiffs’ allege the defendants’ rather loose interpretation of the case law essentially absolves them from responsibility, which they assert was never the intention of the law to begin with.
“The plaintiffs have properly alleged each and every element of a negligence cause of action,” the answer reads. “To accept the defendants’ interpretation of the relevant case law would be to wholly shield emergency response personnel from any liability whatsoever, which is clearly not the intent of the Maryland courts or legislature.”
Beyond the interpretation of the case law, the Boughters, in their formal answer, dispute the claim the EMTs never made any contact with the victims and, therefore, should not be held accountable. By taking the first 911 call and responding to the motel, the EMTs set in motion a rescue effort for the victims in Room 121 even though they never made any physical contact with Boughters once they arrived on the scene.
“Quite simply, the defendants’ argument is wrong in light of the fact the complaint specifically alleges the defendants affirmatively acted to rescue the Boughter family,” the answer reads. “Indeed, what the defendants fail to recognize, and what is of critical importance to the pending matter, is that the totality of the defendants’ omissions occurred after the defendants were dispatched to Room 121 at the Days Inn Hotel and after they arrived at the hotel in response to the Boughters’ 911 call.” In other words, the Boughters allege the defendants began the process of rescuing them and then inexplicably abandoned those rescue efforts. The plaintiffs allege the defendants received an emergency 911 call from Yvonne Boughter and the call was dispatched to the defendants who then undertook a response. The defendants noted the exact location of the emergency situation, arrived at the scene and then abandoned rescue efforts, according to the answer.
“Specifically, the defendants failed to investigate Room 121, failed to call Yvonne Boughter’s cell phone number, and failed to check with the front desk as to whether there were any guest staying in Room 121,” the complaint reads. “In fact, the defendants’ failure to move forward with the rescue resulted in the Boughter family’s prolonged exposure to lethal levels of carbon monoxide, which ultimately caused the deaths of Patrick and Kelly Boughter, and serious injury to Yvonne and Morgan Boughter. Defendants arrived at the very scene of the incident and only then were rescue efforts abandoned without even a cursory investigation of Room 121.”