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Lansing, Michigan

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MI Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Lawsuits Against 911 Operators

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The Michigan Supreme Court will soon hear arguments about whether lawsuits against two 911 operators and their handling of emergency calls from a 5-year-old Detroit boy should be dismissed. The boy, Robert Turner, dialed 911 after his mother, Sherrill Turner, collapsed in 2006. The first 911 operator, Sharon Nichols, accused the boy of playing games, scolded him and refused to send emergency help. She was convicted of willful neglect of duty in 2008, lost her job, served a year probation, and paid $450 in fines. Robert attempted to call back three hours later and was again scolded by another 911 operator, Terri Sutton, but she sent emergency personnel. When EMS arrived, Sherrill was dead from an apparent heart condition.

Robert's relatives are suing the two operators for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The 911 operators argue that their conduct failed to rise to the level of gross negligence and that they did not intend to inflict emotional distress. In addition to dismissing the lawsuits, they also hope that the Michigan Supreme Court will overturn judgements against them in Wayne County Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals maintained that the operators' actions were so negligent that they contributed to Sherrill's death.

Nevertheless, the two operators and members of the city emergency dispatchers union argue that city officials are to blame for the incident because of a lack of staffing, overworked dispatchers, and a lack of resources. Nichols also maintained that she made the decision not to send EMS on 4.5 hours of sleep after working a double shift the night before.