SWLAW Blog | Alumni

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October 20, 2017

What Part of Mandatory Did They Not Understand? Doctor, Nurse, Hospital, and family members found liable for failing to report suspected child abuse. Child's advocates include Alum/Adjunct Professor Ed Stark '79.

Warning: This subject matter should be disturbing.

Cree was seven weeks old when his teenage parents and maternal grandmother brought him to the emergency room with a bruised face, eye damage, and a mouth full of blood.  His mother told a nurse practitioner the injuries were caused by the infant hitting himself.  WHAT!? Just the idea of a seven-week-old human being self-inflicting painful injuries is absurd!  

California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (California Penal Code Section 11166) requires that a report be made when a mandated reporter has knowledge of or observes a child whom the reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect.

The crux of this case is that when presented with indications of child abuse, the medical staff failed to file the mandatory report.   A former Calaveras County child protective services worker testified at trial that, if a report had been made to child protective services when the infant was first seen, Cree would have been taken into protective custody. 

No report was made, Cree remained in his parents' custody until three weeks later when he was returned to the emergency department with a spinal cord injury that has left him permanently paralyzed (he also suffered a  broken clavicle, two broken ribs and extensive bruising over much of his body). 

This tragedy could have and should have been prevented.  Cree, now six years old, was adopted by the foster family that took him in after he was paralyzed.  We waited until this point in the story to report that Cree was awarded $8.4 million. This is the largest personal injury/malpractice verdict ever in Amador County and also the largest verdict ever anywhere in California regarding a “Failure to Report” case.

$8.4 million is a lot of money.  But no amount of cash can turn back the clock, erase these horrible facts, and undo the physical and emotional damage Cree suffered at the collective hands of the people who should have protected him. 

Child abuse reporting is critical for the safety of all of California's children. It is easy, fast and confidential. And it saves children's’ lives.

Chris Keane - One of Cree's attorneys

This is a lesson not just for mandatory reporters, but for all of us.  Let us not hesitate in giving a voice to powerless, innocent and vulnerable children. Let us all err on the side of reporting all suspected abuse and removing children from potential abusers while an investigation is conducted.  

The trial was hotly contested and until the verdict was read, we were unsure of which way the jury would come down.  We had an incredibly wonderful, intelligent, even-minded, judge and the jury worked diligently to go through the 11-page special verdict form.  About half of the jury was crying after the trial.  

Edward Stark '79 - One of Cree's attorneys

Cree's trial attorneys were Chris Keane (San Francisco), Edward Stark '79 (Los Angeles), and Jennifer Lothert (Sonora). Congratulations on a job well done and thank you for this important lesson.

We would be remiss if we failed to provide the following information:

BLOG Image - LA County Reporting Child Abuse

For more information including all California County Emergency Response Reporting Telephone Numbers click here.