Irst Responder Liability; Ethical Dilemma

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Abstract

This research paper will highlight the liabilities inherent in emergency management and response to catastrophe, by examining one element of the Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999. Specifically, it will examine one of several civil suits against law enforcement first responders, brought about by family members of one victim in this tragic incident.

During the shooting rampage of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, numerous students and faculty were injured or killed. One of the several students killed on April 20, 1999, was Daniel Rohrbough. After exchanging shots with several defendant deputies/officers, and prior to entering the Library, Harris and Klebold turned their aim on Rohrbough as he fled the school. He died just outside the building as a result of gunshot wounds. After Rohrbough was shot, Harris and Klebold entered the Library and engaged several more students and faculty whom they ultimately shot and killed.

Although defendant command personnel, deputies, officers, and dispatchers prevailed in the ensuing federal civil suit and subsequent appeals process, this tragedy illustrates the importance of adequate planning and preparation. Further, it demonstrates the inevitable nature of litigation despite the best intentions of those charged with restoring order during periods of crisis.

While this event does not come to mind immediately when questions about disaster management are discussed, it does fall well within the definition of  man-made disaster . Thus, it warrants consideration among the many occurrences that have overwhelmed local authorities and to which they have appealed to neighboring or federal agencies for aid. Further, it does illustrate the depth that a man-made disaster can impact numerous lives within the effected community for years beyond the event.

This case is illustrative of the irony that exists between the emergency worker s  Calling , or lifelong dream to serve others, and the litigious society within which we live. It is the  buyer beware warning that comes with every call. It is a reminder of the internal alarm that should sound as first responders make their way to the scene. An alarm that violently shakes the responder out of the  All hands on deck! or  Get there and get in at all cost! mentality, to one that mentally slows the action down. Even with that level of calculated and systematic self-control, emergency response is an  In for a penny, in for a pound profession.