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Can a Day Care Center be Sued if a Child is Left Unattended in a Day Care Center Van?

 By Scott Zahler, Attorney and David Wolf, Attorney

Published by Child Injury Lawyer Network

Day Care Center VanWhen a day care center, summer camp, or school transports small children, it is important that the child care providers make sure that all children exit the vehicle.  This is quite a simple but an important statement or rule to follow.  Unfortunately, some day care center employees get distracted OR simply do not perform the required tasks of the job.  As a result, children are at times left behind on day care center vans and buses.   In the swelter of a hot summer month, just a few minutes can spell the difference between life and death.   Certainly, a child’s rights are violated if the child is left unatttended on a school bus or day care center van for any length of time.  As a Child Injury Lawyer, I am often asked the following question:
          Can a Day Care Center Be Sued If a Child Is Left Unattended in a Day Care Center Van?
The simple answer to this question is “Yes”.  However, parents should have an understanding of the elements of a case or claim when dealing with a potential case and a search for an attorney.  There are typically four elements to a civil case for negligence, neglect, and / or abuse at a day care center.  Here are the elements:
1. Duty.   This refers to the responsibilities of the day care center as set forth by statutes, ordinances, and rules.  It also refers to the general duties that are in place for every day care center.  Namely, the day care center should provide a reasonably safe learning environment for each child. 
2.  Breach of Duty.  This refers to to failure to act in a reasonable or careful manner. It may be the failure to act at all by the day care center and its staff.   In most States, a parent must prove that the day care center did something wrong. There was some kind of mistake, negligence, or carelessness on the part of the day care center and its staff. A day care center case is typically not based on the mere fact that a child was injured while in day care.  It refers to all of the four elements as outlined herein.
3.  Causation.  This refers to what was caused due to the negligence or fault of the day care center.  The breach of duty must be linked by the element of causation to the final element which is the element of damages.
4.  Damages.  This refers to the harm caused to the child from a physical and / or emotional standpoint. It can also refer to the economic damages including medical bills, lost wages of the parents, educational expenses, etc. . .
So, if a parent can prove up all four elements, does that mean that the case will be taken and a lawsuit would be filed?  The simple answer to this question is “Not necessarily.”   There are many practical considerations to take when deciding whether to pursue a claim or case on behalf of an injured child.  Let’s say that a child is left on a day care van for 5 minutes with the air conditioning running.  The bus driver quickly realizes that the bus is still running and a child is onboard.   Would this be a breach of duty?  The answer is probably but, under this fact scenario, there does not appear to be any harm whatsoever that resulted.   Of course, the death of a child resulting from being left in a hot school bus or hot day care center van is a whole different case.   Potential cases should be evaluated on their own facts, circumstances, and merits.   A Child Injury Lawyer can help a parent through these tough times by reviewing the facts and providing the necessary guidance and support that a parent needs following a traumatic incident.  
Recently in Atlanta Georgia, a 2 year old was left on a day care center van at A New Beginning Learning Center.  The child was located by his grandmother who essentially saved this child’s life.  It was reported that Jeremy Smith, Jr. was locked in the van for approximately 2 hours.  The child was alert and breathing when he was found. He was later evaluated at a local hospital.   Miraculously, the child survived this most dangerous event.  You can read more about this story at Child Left on Day Care Center Van in Atlanta, Georgia
The book titled – The ABCs of Child Injury – Legal Rights of the Injured Child – What Every Parent Should Know – has chapters on Automobile Accidents, School Injuries, Day Care Center Injuries, Playground Injuries, and other topics.   The book is an excellent resource for parents seeking some answers in an easy to read and understand format.  You can get the book for free at The ABCs of Child Injury.