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Cops Must Face Suicide Wrongful Death Claims

(CN) - Nine police officers must face some claims from the family of a woman who committed suicide while they were outside her home investigating an accident she caused, a federal judge ruled.

In a complaint filed in the Orlando, Fla. Federal Court, the woman's mother argued that police knew she was suicidal and her former employer contributed to her suicide by firing her earlier that day.

Shelly Rose Olson sued Sprint/United Management Company, the City of Oviedo, Fla. and nine police officers in 2013.

The lawsuit claims Rebecca Olson was fired from Sprint Dec. 7, 2011, and the cell phone provider then called Oviedo Police to check on her, knowing she wouldn't take the news well.

An officer was able to reach Olson on the phone and did not make a report but remembered that she seemed upset, according to the ruling. Police conducted a suicide check later that afternoon after receiving a call from a former co-worker, who said Olson was unstable and had guns. They made contact with Olson and canceled the call.

Less than two hours later, Oviedo Police were notified that Olson was driving her truck erratically in her neighborhood, the ruling states. They arrived to find that Olson had struck a parked vehicle on her street.

Olson handed one officer her concealed carry ID and went in her house to get her driver's license, according to the ruling. Meanwhile, police continued to speak with Olson's friend about the accident, ignoring her repeated requests that the officers to check on Olson.

Shortly thereafter, officers entered Olson's house and heard a shotgun blast, the ruling states. Her friend, who had run around to the side of the house, saw Olson shoot herself in the chest.

The ruling says Olson had a pulse after shooting herself, but none of the officers attempted basic life support and no ambulance was called. It was alleged that more officers arrived on the scene, but they too failed to provide life support and even refused an offer of aid from a registered nurse.

One officer stood next to Olson, who was alive and breathing, but secured the shotgun instead of trying to provide life support to Olson, the ruling states. Rescue personnel allegedly said officers didn't help Olson and left them "nothing to work with."

It is further alleged that Oviedo Police didn't request assistance so no status updates or radio dispatches were heard and a hospital airlift was delayed. Olson died at the hospital.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron dismissed Sprint from the case, ruling that the shooting had nothing to do with Olson's former employer.

"Plaintiff relies heavily upon Sprint's knowledge of Ms. Olson's precarious mental state as grounds for implying a duty upon Sprint as Ms. Olson's employer. While one of Ms. Olson's superiors called the police after terminating her and requested they perform a safety check on her, these facts do not give rise to a duty to prevent the harm that befell Ms. Olson," Byron wrote. "These facts as alleged demonstrate that Sprint did not owe a duty to Ms. Olson, and thus, plaintiff's claim for wrongful death against Sprint is due to be dismissed with prejudice."

However, certain individual police officers named in the lawsuit are not off the hook because they're not protected by qualified immunity, Byron ruled.

"While Ms. Olson was not under arrest, the officers did not allow [her friend] or any other bystander, including a registered nurse, to provide medical assistance to her," the judge wrote. "These officers were the only ones on the scene who could have reasonably provided Ms. Olson with basic life support and ensured that emergency medical assistance was summoned. At this stage of the litigation, the court finds that their failure to do so caused Ms. Olson to be deprived of her right to life."

Byron ruled that Olson's mother can amend her complaint as to the wrongful death claims against individual officers because her complaint does not specify exactly which officer is responsible for specific acts of negligence. But the wrongful death claims against the City of Oviedo were found to have merit.

"Several of the officers who had responded hours earlier to Ms. Olson's suicide check were also called to the scene of the traffic accident. The officers still allowed Ms. Olson to enter her home where officers must have reasonably assumed guns were located by virtue of Ms. Olson displaying to Officer Hill her concealed weapons ID," Byron wrote. "Moreover, plaintiff alleged that the officers at the scene did not timely provide her with medical care or summon emergency medical care, despite their knowledge that the shot was not fatal."

Byron also denied a motion to dismiss a claim that the city was negligent in its training of police officers, finding that the alleged facts support the claim.

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