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Is a Day Care Center Liable Every Time that a Child Dies at the Day Care Center Facility?

By Roy Dickinson, Attorney and David Wolf, Attorney
Published by the Child Injury Lawyer Blog
Fire Rescue - Blue TruckWhen a parent drops off a child at a day care center, the parent expects that the child will be cared for in a clean and supportive educational environment. The reasonable expectation of the parent is to pick up a happy, healthy child at the end of the day.  With single parent families or dual income working families, day care centers are essential for the family to be able to deal with life changes and stresses.  A good and caring staff at the day care center can go a long way to providing for the needs of the child.   Unfortunately, for some children, serious personal injuries and even deaths result at the day care center.  Is the day care center responsible or liable for every incident?  The answer is No.   Let’s go back and take a closer look at this particular question. The important words are “every incident”.   Just because a child is injured or even dies at a day care center, this does not mean by itself that the day care center is liable for responsible for the injuries.
On a similar note, if a child is injured or dies at the home of the parent, this does not mean that the parent did something wrong OR that the parent neglected the child in any manner.   The evaluation of a potential claim or case will depend on the facts and circumstances of the incident.  Like other legal cases, a parent pursuing a claim or case for the wrongful death of a child against a day care center, school, or summer camp must establish through the evidence the following elements:
1. Duty;
2. Breach of Duty;
3. Causation; and
4. Damages.
With respect to a potential wrongful death case, a parent must prove that the actions or inactions of the day care center caused or significantly caused the death of the child.   As part of this evaluation or analysis, the following questions are often raised:  Was the incident foreseeable?  Was the death preventable?  What could have been done on the part of the day care center to better protect and care for the child?  Was there anything as part of the child’s underlying medical condition or congenital conditions that were the real cause  of the death.  As you can see, these cases can be quite complicated from both a legal and medical standpoint.  There are news stories reported in which a child dies a day care center.  These stories make the news because it is not something that the parent expects nor does the general public expect to happen during the day.   When a child dies unexpectedly, there typically is an autopsy performed to find out more information as to the cause, timing, and preventability of death.   There was a recent incident reported at a Wagoner, Oklahoma day care center. It was reported that a child was called to Grandma’s Playhouse and Learning for an unresponsive 5 month old child.  The child was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was declared death.  It was reported that the Oklahoma Department of Human Resources will be investigating the death.  It should be noted that there were no prior reports of problems at this facility according to the review of the DHS Website.  You can read more about this incident at Oklahoma DHS Investigating Death of Child at Wagoner Day Care Center
From the news report and no further information, there is not enough information to determine if any issues or problems existed at the day care center which, in turn, caused the death of this child.   It may be a very unfortunate, unexpected incident. The autopsy and review of the facility records will give investigators more information to make a determination as to the cause and preventability (if any) of this child’s death.
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, Playground Injuries, and other topics. You can get this book for free at The ABCs of Child Injury.