FOX47 NEWS - Judge to Rule on Zimmermann Lawsuit

Jeff Angileri
May 26, 2009, 10:15 PM

A judge will decide next month whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of murdered UW student Brittany Zimmermann.

The suit accuses the Dane County of mishandling the 911 call Zimmermann made from her cell phone the night she was murdered.

It's a question of negligence.

The lawsuit claims former 911 dispatcher Rita Gahagan did not follow proper procedure by not sending police. The lawsuit also accuses County Executive Kathleen Falk and Dane County of causing emotional distress by denying there was a call, and then publicly stating there were no sounds of distress in the call.

Defense attorneys say Falk was too far removed from the incident to be blamed.

She wasn't present at the 911 center when this call was made, said defense attorney Claude Covelli. She was not the immediate supervisor, or even the intermediate supervisor.

Zimmermann's fiancé Jordan Gonnering is also part of the wrongful death lawsuit, saying he suffered from emotional injuries after finding her body after she was killed, in April 2008.

Lawyers for Zimmermann's estate also criticized the 911 center, saying it was deficient and plagued with problems.

This 911 call system was problematic, said Christopher Hale, Gonnering's attorney. It had errors. It didn't have the correct computers. It could not identify cell phone numbers. It's all in the report.

In February, an independent audit of the 911 center came back mostly positive, after the county hired more dispatchers and upgraded the computer aided dispatch system.

Lawyers argued today that those upgrades should have happened long before Zimmermann called.

Lawyers for Dane County, Falk, and Gahagan are trying to get the case dismissed. Attorney David McFarlane called the lawsuit a fishing expedition, with no merit under Wisconsin law.

They have a claim against the county and they don't have any facts, McFarlane said. Now, they're suing individuals because they're alleging [Falk and Gahagan] acted outside the scope of their employment.

Zimmermann's family is seeking damages -- but there's no mention of how much money. The judge said she'd have a ruling by June 5th.

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