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Will Alameda Water Rescue Policy Lead to Lawsuit?

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 02, 2011 6:46 AM

An Alameda water rescue policy has come under scrutiny after the drowning death of a man on Memorial Day.

The Alameda drowning was the apparent result of a suicide attempt by Raymond Zack, 52. But what is shocking is that firefighters and police who were called to the scene could only stand idly by as they watched the man succumb to the waves.

Police and firefighters stood back, helpless. They were untrained in water rescue. Due to budget cuts, the fire department's water rescue program had been scrapped, and the policy for firefighters was that they were not to enter into the water in cases like this, reports USA Today.

Zack reportedly drowned himself at Crown Beach. It took almost an hour, and for the most part he had been standing in neck-deep water. Eventually, he floated away from shore, and a passerby swam out to drag his body back while the police and firefighters remained grounded.

Police and firefighters were unsure about what to do in the situation. Zack was committing suicide, and officers were unsure if he would be violent, or if he had been taking drugs, reports the San Jose Mercury-News.

Obviously, the public outcry after the death and the shock that rescue authorities could stand idly by as someone drowned has shaken the City of Alameda's officials. The rescue policy that originally prevented officers from entering into the water was reversed this week after a hearing.

The question on many minds: Is the city liable for Zack's death, if you don't take into account that he was trying to take his own life?

In previous cases, the courts have ruled that the police have no duty to protect individuals from criminals. Does the same logic extend to whether or not police and rescue authorities have the duty to rescue citizens? Maybe, just like a lifeguard may be legally liable if they know someone is drowning but do absolutely nothing to save that person. But in this case, a specific department policy kept the police from acting.

For now, the Alameda water rescue policy has been changed. After the unfortunate Alameda drowning death, one can only wonder if any lawsuits will be filed on the family's behalf.

6/2/11 Editors Note: When we initially ran this post, we relied on a NBC Bay Area story that cited Alameda County. In fact, it was the City of Alameda that implemented the no-water rescue policy.

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