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Can a Day Care Center be Held Liable When a Child Dies on the Premises of the Day Care Center?

By  David Wolf, Attorney
Kids Number Block As Symbol For Numeracy Or CountingParents rely upon day care to provide for the parent the child during working hours. For most childre in day care, the experience is a positive one filled with education, activities, and socialization.  For some children, however, a day care center is the site of a serious personal injury and even a tragedy in the form of a death.  Most child care providers are well-trained, caring individuals who put in a hard day of work to properly supervise children. At times, a day care center is a location where a child takes his or her last breath. Imagine the shock of a parent who drops off a child in the morning at a day care center only to learn that the child died at the day care center later that day.
Is a day care center liable when a child dies on premises? Like other legal cases, the answer to this question depends on the facts and circumstances of the death. Typically, the death of a child is investigated by local law enforcement agencies and the medical examiner’s office. There is nothing natural or expected in most cases of a child at the daycare center. As such, there should be a forensic medical examination performed in order to determine the cause and preventability of death. Day care providers do not always share with law enforcement  or the medical examiner all of the facts, observations and/or care that was provided during the day. On some occasions, day care providers even provide inaccurate or false information.  The liability of the day care center will depend in part on the results of the autopsy in the medical examiner’s report. This is one part of the puzzle in order to establish a case (if there is one) for the wrongful death of a child against the day care center. Like other legal cases, there must be four elements proved to establish a wrongful death against the day care provider.  Here are the four elements:
1. Duty;
2. Breach of Duty;
3. Causation; and
4. Damages
Let’s take a hypothetical example. A child is dropped off at the daycare center. The child is three years old and is a walker. While at the day care center, the child wanders out of the facility and into a small pool just outside one of the exit doors. The child decides to play around in the pool and falls in the pool in drowns. Under these facts, there appears to be a civil case that could be pursued. The day care center had the duty to supervise the children and otherwise provide for a safe educational environment. The day care center breaches duty by failing to supervise the child, failing to put safeguards in place to prevent exit from the facility, and failing to otherwise place a barrier and alarm around the pool area.  It can be argued that the death of this child could have been avoided. The book titled The ABCs of Child Injury – Legal Rights of the Injured Child – What Every Parent Should Know – has chapters on Day Care Center Injuries, School Injuries, Swimming and Water Park Injries, Playground Injuries, and other topics. You can get this book for free at The ABCs of Child Injury.