“Newark must pay $4.1 million for missteps in student’s death”

by Walter Olson on May 19, 2008

New Jersey: “An Essex County jury has ordered Newark to pay $4.1 million to the family of a murdered Seton Hall University student because of mistakes made by a police dispatcher and 911 operator during her abduction. The jury’s verdict came after the attorney for Sohayla Massachi’s family argued that prompt action by the Newark police may have prevented her murder after she was abducted by a jilted boyfriend in May 2000.” The jury attributed 25 percent of its $5.5 million award to Seton Hall and its security agency, Argenbright Security Inc., but those defendants had already settled. (William Kleinknecht, Newark Star-Ledger, May 16).

{ 3 comments }

1 Ted Frank 05.19.08 at 7:07 am

The story’s account appears incomplete. Massachi was killed with a bullet to the head in a murder-suicide when police did respond (waiting an hour for backup to arrive before entering after hearing the gunshots), so causation is highly highly questionable, even if one ignores the problem of third-party liability for crime. (The security company didn’t act because the crime didn’t happen on campus.)

How does the city get held liable for a police omission? Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), shut down federal causes of action, though it’s conceivable New Jersey state law differs.

Here’s how: the New Jersey appellate court held “Once the city made a decision to hire 911 operators and provide them with specific procedural regulations governing the manner in which they must respond to calls, then the negligent performance of those 911 operators is not entitled to immunity.” And if a city doesn’t have 911 operators or procedural regulations, then it doesn’t have liability. Guess what incentives this creates?

2 William Nuesslein 05.19.08 at 10:24 am

I am surprised that the family did not sue the University for accepting their daughter as a student. And how about the SAT people?

Judges have to provide reasons for their rulings. It is up to the people of New Jersey to shame judges when they are so blatantly stupid.

3 Deoxy 05.19.08 at 12:39 pm

While I must agree with Ted’s comment about the incentives created by the reasoning of this ruling, I would like to remind people that the government has made its bed on this one…

(I’m thinking of the repeated cases where the government srews up BIG TIME and suffers no consequences – think of that case with the women who were raped, called 911, the police came and left, they got raped some more, etc)

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