Lawyer: Companies could face lawsuits over emergency notification problems

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- About 100,000 homes in Jefferson County and Broomfield are not listed in a database that warns people of emergencies.

A woman who died in the Lower North Fork Fire 10 days ago was one of them.

And it could open the door to a slew of costly lawsuits.

We know Colorado and its counties have government immunity from lawsuits--capped at $600,000 per incident.

But a private company working for Jefferson County is not immune, according to attorney David Beller.

And now there are questions whether this company could be responsible for loss of life and property.

This hotel is home for Doug Gulick and his family, since flames chased them away 10 days ago. His son shot incredible video on his cell phone as they fled in a hurry while flames surrounded them. They barely made it out alive.

"To  drive to our house, we have to drive by where our neighbors used to live and there's nothing there now," says Gulick.

One of those neighbors, Ann Appel, had called 911 three hours before fire gutted her home, with her still inside.

“It's blowing smoke right over my house,” she told a 911 dispatcher.

But Appel never got an emergency notification call warning her to evacuate and neither did 277 others in the evacuation area. First Call says 570 others did.

"Her being assured that everything is okay makes that tragedy even worse. Then, you realize no call was made to her when it should have been," says Beller.

He says that failure by emergency alert company First Call, could mean big money for Appel's family.

"It's impossible to a put dollar value on life. But when conduct is this egregious that dollar amount is going to go up, it just is," says Beller.

He says other fire victims could also sue--arguing a call might have helped them save their home or at least the things in it.

"They are at least partially responsible. I am curious how they got the wrong information? You don’t make up numbers. It must have come from somewhere," says Gulick’s wife, Kim Olson.

Jefferson County says those numbers came from century link and other telephone providers--which Beller says could also face serious liability problems.

Whoever is responsible, victims like the Gulicks say, solve it so it never happens again.

"We don’t want to be pointing fingers. We’re not professional victims. We just want this to be fixed," says Gulick.

Century Link spokesman John Hall released this statement.

“Century Link places the highest priority on public safety and as the data coordinator for the 911 information in Colorado, we provide public safety agencies or their vendors with information for their own use. We cannot comment on how the data is used by third parties for other applications.”

The county says it hopes to fix the reverse emergency call problem by Monday, at the latest.

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