Alameda Drowning Suit Filed

As the anniversary of the Memorial Day 2011 drowning of Raymond Zack approaches, his family filed a wrongful death suit against the city and county of Alameda. The suit was filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court alleging that officials should have done more to help the 52 year old suicidal man.

The action was brought by Bernice Jolliff and Robert Zack, the victim’s sister and brother.  It alleges that city firefighters did not have a rescue boat and were unable to enter the water because they were not certified in land-water rescue. It also alleges that county dispatchers failed to contact the proper agencies to respond in a timely manner.

The family filed an administrative claim for damages with the city and county last October. The complaint follows along the theories outlined in the administrative claim, and is an interesting read. Among the notable points contained in the suit are the following allegations relative to the city:

  • The response of the fire and police departments was negligent and/or reckless
  • A special relationship existed between the rescuers and Mr. Zack by virtue of:
    • Their efforts to organize the scene and contact Zack
    • The removal of civilians from the area and prohibiting them from effecting a rescue on their own
  • Funding for the rescue swimmer program that was cut in 2008, had been restored in 2009, but the training never occurred

The allegations against the county focuses on the dispatchers, claiming they were negligent, reckless, and wilful and wanton for their failure to promptly contact mutual aid resources with suitable water rescue capabilities.

Here is a copy of the complaint. Zack v Alameda

Let me point out to the legal eagles out there, the allegation of the existence of a special relationship between responders and Mr. Zack will likely become a critical part of the litigation. If a special relationship is found to exist, then it offers the plaintiffs a way around any immunity protection that the city and county may otherwise have. In addition, it gets plaintiffs around the application of the public duty doctrine.

More on the lawsuit.

Here’s our original post.

Here is the follow up.

PS – a big thank you to my friends in California for getting us the complaint!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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