As of now, penalties for non-compliant PBX telephone systems in the United States exist in only 2% of the states. What!?

That’s right, there are only 18 states with ANY legislation relating to a PBX and E911, and out of those only a single state, Michigan, states that there is any kind of penalty for noncompliance. That statistic may double later this year, if California gets its way, as the finalized recommendation from the California Public Utilities Commission includes a $5000 penalty for noncompliance.

E911 Legislation in 18 States Map

But is it the law that people are concerned with? Clearly it is not, as less than 20% of businesses are thought to be in compliance, based on the number of incorrect calls arriving at Public Safety Answering Points from multiline telephone systems.

One might then think that if they are not in Michigan, then their checkbook is free and clear from any unforeseen incident, right? Unfortunately not. Although you pay a penalty when you violate the law, when you do anything that causes any harm or perceived harm to another, liability comes into play.

When establishing liability and who is at fault, a tactic that attorneys will use is “prior knowledge”. In simple terms, if you know about a problem, and chose to ignore it, you’re taking on responsibility (liability) of any injuries resulting from that problem.

This is the exact tactic that is being used, on the other side of a 911 call, in Texas. Dispatch Magazine Online reported in a story last week that the parents of a deceased teenager are suing the city of Dallas, Apple, and AT&T claiming that they were negligible for not using technology that could have accurately located their son when 911 was called on an overdose.

It seems that a second overdose, within the same apartment complex, confused dispatchers into thinking there was only a single incident. “Upon information and belief, Defendant AT&T also has available to it technology that allows it to locate the iPhone in question to locations significantly more accurate than the FCC requirements at the time and could in fact isolate the location of the iPhone in question to as close as 30 feet of the calling location.” In almost four pages of the 12-page lawsuit, the plaintiffs make the same claim about Apple.

This will be very interesting to watch, as it could set a precedent in future cases where a plaintiff charges that a defendant is guilty, not by breaking the law, but by making a decision that is clearly not in the best interest of others.