Robert Paulus


The family of a man who died after his 911 call was deemed a “pocket” or “butt” dial has filed a wrongful death claim against the city of Fredericksburg.

Richard Nageotte, a Stafford County-based attorney representing the children of Robert Michael Paulus, said the claim he filed is required before someone can sue the city. While Nageotte expects a lawsuit will be filed, he said that at this point his office is “investigating to come up with the facts” in order to conclude whether legal action is justified.

The claim was sent by certified mail to all City Council members, the mayor and the city attorney. It notifies the city “and/or its agents, officers, employees” of allegations that their negligence led to the wrongful death of Paulus.

The notice is filed in the name of Paulus’ children, who “are demanding compensation in the form of monetary damages,” according to the claim.

The incident involving Paulus happened in April and led to changes in protocol in how 911 calls are handled.

Paulus called 911 on April 23 from his Kenmore Avenue apartment, apparently just before suffering a heart attack or while he was suffering one. Most of the 24-second call made by Paulus is quiet, with the dispatcher attempting three times to get a response.

Although there were some slightly audible sounds prior to the dispatcher ending the call, it was deemed a mistaken pocket dial. The center’s protocol at the time gave dispatchers the discretion to end such calls with no other response deemed necessary.

Two days after the call, Paulus’s co-workers went to his apartment after he failed to show up for work and found his lifeless body. Paulus, who had a history of heart problems, had died of a heart attack.

The man’s family contacted police after finding that he called 911 from his business cellphone. After some digging, the 911 center eventually found the call in its system and opened an investigation, which led to changes in emergency call protocols.

Police department spokeswoman Sarah Kirkpatrick said there would be no comment because of the potential pending litigation.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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