Court allows lawsuit over 911 call in murder

February 19, 2008 11:59:32 AM PST
The family of a woman who was abducted and killed after stepping off a commuter train in Camden may go forward with a lawsuit against police after all. A state appeals court on Tuesday reversed a judge's previous decision that the estate of Christine Eberle could not sue.

Christine Eberle was a 27-year-old accountant who lived in suburban Washington Township and worked in Philadelphia. Every day, she drove to a Camden train station for the last leg of her commute.

On Nov. 12, 2001, she was kidnapped from the parking lot as she was on her way home. She was beaten before being killed with a machete. Two men pleaded guilty to her murder; both are serving 43-year prison sentences.

Eberle's mother sued on behalf of the slain woman's estate, blaming the Delaware River Port Authority for an unsafe parking lot and Camden police and a 911 dispatcher for not dispatching police after a witness called police about the abduction.

The dispatcher wrote down information from the call, but never entered it into a police computer to initiate a response.

The DRPA later settled with the estate.

In 2006, a judge rejected the remaining portions of the lawsuit just before it was to go to trial, ruling that the government cannot be held legally liable for an employee not performing her job correctly.

But the three-judge panel found that that immunity does not apply to an employ who is not making a policy decision. According to police protocol, the dispatcher, Marie Cupparo, should have entered the crime into a computer when she handled the emergency call, the court said.

Andrew Rossetti, a lawyer for Eberle's estate, said that if police had been dispatched, the sirens likely would have scared away the killers. "We've always argued that Christine would have been alive today," he said.

In Tuesday's ruling, the court said that Cupparo and the city could ask a trial judge to throw out the case on a different grounds: That 911 centers are immune from lawsuits like these.

Timothy Scaffidi, a lawyer for Cupparo, said he could not comment because litigation is pending.

The lawyer for the City of Camden did not immediately return a call.