Davis v. Devereux Discusses Vicarious Liability in Carolina Child Injury Cases

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Davis v. Devereux Foundation is a recent New Jersey case that deals with the duty owed by caregiver companies to their residents. This case involves a boy named Roland Davis (Davis or plaintiff) who was a resident of Devereux Foundation (defendant or Devereux). Plaintiff had been diagnosed with mental retardation, autism, persuasive development disorder and attention hyperactivity disorder.

Plaintiff had communication problems and relied on a picture system to communicate with others. He also had a pattern of aggressive and combative behavior which required him to need constant supervision. Plaintiff’s mother placed him in a non-profit care facility called Devereux Foundation (defendant or Devereux).

Devereux was a care facility that had residents with emotional, educational and developmental disabilities. This facility assigned one residence counselor to every resident to assure that the resident is receiving assistance, supervision and care throughout the day. The residential counselors were responsible for keeping a record of resident’s daily schedule and progress throughout the day.

This New Jersey non-profit company valued the care they gave to their residents. They installed a special screening for new resident counselors that included fingerprinting, drug testing, a physical evaluation, and a background check. Devereux also required recommendation letters for the special screening. When the defendant hired Charlene McClain (McClain) they conducted this thorough screening and found nothing that would give them a warning that McClain could injure a resident.

Devereux assigned McClain to care for plaintiff. Plaintiff did have a reputation for kicking, screaming, stomping, spitting, and initiating physical interactions with the staff. Plaintiff had attacked McClain two times. On the day after the second attack, McClain arrived at work and warmed up a glass of water in the microwave. She went into the room where the plaintiff was getting out of bed, and she threw the water onto the plaintiff’s lap. In order to see if she had burned the plaintiff, McClain told plaintiff to get into the shower. Upon seeing the extensive burns on the plaintiff’s lap, legs, groin and pelvis; McClain called in another residence counselor to help her determine what to do.

Plaintiff was sent to the hospital and he spent six days admitted for treatment. He suffered from serious burns and was left with permanent scares. Plaintiff’s mother investigated as to the cause of these injuries, and subsequently sued McClain and Devereux.

McClain confessed to intentionally scalding the plaintiff. She said that she got the glass of boiling water to protect herself in the event that the plaintiff tried to attack her. McClain admitted that plaintiff did not attack her on that day and that she threw the boiling water on the plaintiff because she was angry about their prior altercations. McClain pled guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The problem in this case arose because plaintiff also sued Devereux. Plaintiff argued that because the facility stood “in loco parentis,” they were responsible for a higher duty of care. Where a child or elderly person is being primarily cared for by a facility, the facility assumes liability for the care and treatment of the resident or patient. Plaintiff argued that a non-delegable duty should be imposed.

The court found that the defendant can be liable for the intentional acts of McClain, but the court held that because McClain’s acts were not to further the defendant’s business, the heightened liability standard could not be imposed.

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