First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

Lawsuit dismissed – no special relationship

A carbon monoxide leak kills two tourists in Ocean City, MD on June 27, 2006. This week a federal judge dismissed the $20 million civil lawsuit against Ocean City paramedics, stating no “special relationship” was forged between the defendants and the victims.

The incident lead to a town ordinance requiring CO alarms to be installed in hotels and motels in the Eastern Shore resort. posted a .pdf of lawsuit  (HERE)


OC_PM01_web Ocean City EMS conducted an investigation and provided a timetable at a July 13, 2006 media briefing.

The following timeline comes from the 2006 briefing augmented with details within the 2009 lawsuit.

  • 9-1-1 received a call around 9:27 am from Room 125 where caller stated “Something is wrong with my daughter and I, we just don’t feel well at all. Would you please send somebody up here?.” The caller also said that they could not breathe, and they had a pounding headache and just didn’t feel like they were able to stay awake.
  • First paramedic ambulance dispatched at 09:30 am.
  • Second paramedic ambulance dispatched at 09:31.
  • First paramedic ambulance arrived at hotel at 9:32 am, second unit arrives 9:33 am.
  • Yvonne Boughter, a nurse on vacation with her family,  placed her first 9-1-1 call at 09:43 am. Boughter told the dispatcher her family had been ill all night. Husband was having trouble breathing, speaking and vomiting. Daughter was vomiting. She gave the dispatcher her room number, 121, and confirmed it later in the conversation, and also provided her cell phone number before lapsing back into unconsciousness.
  • (The 2006 OC EMS timeline states “At 9:45 a.m., another 911 call was received, this time from room 121 of the Day’s Inn for four victims complaining of what they believed to be food poisoning.”)
  • Third paramedic ambulance dispatched at 9:48 am in response to Boughter 9-1-1 call. Dispatch said the caller was in “Room one-two-one, 121”
  • Third paramedic ambulance arrives at 9:54 am, was directed by the first paramedic unit to assist them with the four patients found in Rooms 125 and 127.
  • All three ambulances used to transport patients from 125 and 127. Transports made at 09:54, 09:55 and 10:00.
  • (From 2006 OC EMS timeline: “Up to this point, all four victims transported to the hospital were from the same family sharing rooms 125 and 127. While all these events were transpiring, no paramedics ever responded to room 121.”)
  • At 1:54 pm Yvonne Boughter placed another 9-1-1 call: “Yeah … um … I called you earlier and nobody came yet,” she told the dispatcher, according to the complaint. “My husband has passed away, my daughter looks like she passed away also. She’s mottled and cold to the touch.”
  • A paramedic ambulance crew was dispatched and entered Room 121 at 2:02 pm, the first contact with Boughter.


Senior U. S. District Court Judge William Nickerson granted the Town’s motion to dismiss the case.  In the opinion document, the judge cited a handful of cases in which the special relationship doctrine was evoked, most involving a law enforcement officer’s duty to render aid to a 911 caller.

In the absence of a special relationship between the defendants and the Boughter family, there is no legally recognized duty, and thus, no sustainable claim of negligence,” Nickerson’s opinion reads. “For these reasons, the Court finds the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case must be granted. …

Here, the court must conclude in the case at bar the defendants took no affirmative action, as Maryland courts have understood that term, to give rise to a special relationship. A 911 call was received and a response team was dispatched. It never reached the Boughter family. As the Maryland Court of Appeals has made clear, that is insufficient to create a special relationship.

The Maryland Coast Dispatch has details from an article posted today:  HERE

Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

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