Approximately 11 million children in the U.S. are in child care programs across the country. But daycare injuries and fatalities are vastly under-reported, according to Child Care Aware of America. That’s largely because there is no federal reporting requirement for child fatalities in day care and state reporting requirements vary widely. In fact, 12 states don’t require child care centers to report deaths at all.
There is also no national statistic for how many injuries occur at daycare, though some states have taken initiative to delve into the problem. For example, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Missouri reported in 2012 that 41 of the state’s 45 deaths over the course of three year occurred at unlicensed facilities. But even in those locations that are licensed, it can be difficult for parents to get a straight answer about what happened. Even worse, many facilities do not carry liability insurance in the event an injury does occur.
Or, they may find, as in the recent case of World Harvest Church v. Grange Mut. Cas. Ins. Co., that insurance won’t cover it because it asserts the injury was the result of intentional criminal misconduct. So the big question in the World Harvest case, before the Ohio Supreme Court, was whether the injuries suffered by the child were the result of abuse or “corporal punishment.”
The one bit of good news in this case for the parents – who according to the Columbus Dispatch were kicked out of the church after reporting their toddler’s serious injuries and later referred to in a pastor’s sermon as “the devil” who “stole” money from the church – is that this was a megachurch. That means it personally had the assets to cover the damages for which jurors found it was liable. The issue in the matter before the Ohio Supreme Court was whether the insurer should have indemnified the church and paid the damages.
According to court records, the parents dropped their 2.5-year-old son off at daycare in the morning. When they picked him up in the evening, they noticed bright red marks and bruising on the child’s buttocks, back and upper thighs. The child told his parents he was hurting and that one of the staffers beat him with a knife. The school had not given the parents any indication there was a problem that day. When the parents called to report the child’s daycare injuries, they were told it was probably diaper rash. But the child was potty trained, and thus not susceptible to diaper rash. When the parents asked that action be taken against the staffer, who later admitted “spanking” the child, the parents were told not to return to the school or the church.
Plaintiffs then sued the church and the staffer for assault and battery, negligence and infliction of emotional distress, as well as negligent hiring and supervision and vicarious liability, as it pertained to the church.
The church denied negligence. The case proceeded to trial and jurors sided with plaintiff, awarding compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $5 million, though that figure was later reduced to $2.87 million due to damage caps.
Trial court then entered an order finding that the church’s insurer was responsible to indemnify the church for $1.47 million, but not the punitive damages. The state supreme court reversed. It sided with the insurance company, which reasoned it was not responsible for coverage of injuries caused by “abuse or molestation” in its commercial liability policy. The church attempted to argue that this provision referred to sexual abuse only, but the insurer disputed this and the court agreed.
That means the church will be solely responsible for paying the damage award.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
World Harvest Church v. Grange Mut. Cas. Ins. Co., May 12, 2016, Ohio Supreme Court
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