Neighborly Couple Find Themselves in a Real-Life Nightmare
Norma Gund and James Gund are a middle-aged couple who live a rural California. On March 13, 2011, Ms. Gund received a phone call from an officer at the Trinity County Sheriff's Department. The officer informed Ms. Gund that a neighbor had called 911 for help likely related to inclement weather.
Ms. Gund was familiar with this neighbor, a young woman in her early 30s, who lived with her boyfriend in a home nearby. The officer, who was hours away and did not even know the Gunds, requested that they go check to see if the neighbor was okay. The Gunds agreed to check on the neighbor. This is not unusual in rural America where often neighbors have to rely on one another because outside help would take too long.
The Gunds got into their truck and drove to the neighbor's home to see if she was okay. They had no idea that their lives were in extreme danger. The nightmare was just beginning. Unbeknownst to the Gunds, the neighbor had called 911 and whispered “help me” in a manner that indicated that she trying to avoid being overheard. The call was abruptly disconnected, and the 911 operator called back but there was no answer. Apparently, the officer that called Ms. Gund didn't think this was important information. Really??
Upon arrival at the neighbor's home, nothing looked amiss from the outside. Mr. Gund waited in the truck as his wife went to check on the neighbor. Upon entering the house, to her horror, Ms. Gund saw two bound bodies wrapped in plastic. She was immediately attacked. Mr. Gund heard the commotion and rushed into the house. He saw the attacker holding down his wife and cutting her throat with a large hunting knife.
The attacker turned on Mr. Gund giving his wife an opportunity to escape. Mr. Gund was tased and punched repeatedly. During the attack, he also saw the motionless plastic wrapped bodies. This was not simply a robbery gone bad. The Gunds were now witnesses that needed to be silenced. Mr. Gund fought for his life as the attacker was cutting his throat. Ultimately, he was able to break free and escape.
The Gunds would survive their vicious wounds. Ms. Gund suffered severe injuries and was airlifted to a hospital. She would have to undergo multiple surgeries to repair the damage to her throat. The neighbor and her boyfriend were both murdered by the attacker. The attacker was killed in a high-speed police chase.
County Claims Unwitting Posse Members Exclusive Remedy is Worker's Compensation
Not surprisingly, the Gunds sought compensation from the police department that had endangered their lives. Ultimately, they were forced to file suit against the County. The response from the County would only compound their nightmare. The County claimed that the Gunds were their “posse,” and that “posse” members' exclusive remedy was worker's compensation! What? It makes sense that anyone voluntarily assisting the police should be entitled to worker's compensation in the event that they are injured and unable to obtain or pay for medical treatment. However, the County's using worker's compensation law as a liability defense in case like this one is a gross injustice.
The Gunds probably had health insurance so workers' compensation is not a remedy - it's an insult. It only gets worse because both the trial court and the appellate court agreed with the County that worker's compensation was the appropriate remedy. Neither court gave any weight to the officer's misrepresentations, which were deemed irrelevant. Seriously?
Will the Gunds Receive Justice from California's Highest Court?
This case is now before the California Supreme Court. Briefs have been filed and argument has been heard. It remains to be seen how the highest court of this state will rule. Presently, there is nationwide outrage with regard to police discrimination and unfair treatment. Although discrimination is not an issue in this case, unfairness is front and center. Based on recent events, there is substantial nationwide distrust in America's police departments. If the Gunds do not receive a just result, it may send a message to the public that helping the police is a bad idea. That would be a terrible message because cooperation between the public and police is a necessary element for a safe and healthy community.