North Carolina Childcare Center Liable for Child’s Injuries

playgroundIn a recent North Carolina appellate case, a two-year-old child sued several individuals and the executrix of an estate that was doing business as a childcare center. The child was going to the childcare center in 2010 on the date in question. While running on the daycare property, she was hit by another kid who was also attending the center. She suffered serious injuries, including a leg fracture.

Through her guardian ad litem, she sued, claiming that various individuals who ran the daycare were negligent and thereby legally caused her injuries. She argued that they failed to keep the premises reasonably safe, failed to properly supervise the kids, failed to enforce rules, and failed to keep kids on the premises from running, among other things.

The defendants responded. The parties filed a consent order subsequently, dismissing three individual defendants without prejudice. The only defendant left was the executrix of the estate, which was doing business as the childcare center. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. At trial, the director of the childcare center testified at a videotaped deposition that the plaintiff was one of the kids at the center on the date of the incident. There were four staff members and 18 kids on the playground. Each staff member took 1/4 of the playground so that the kids were carefully supervised.

The two-year-old plaintiff collided with a different two-year-old in an area being supervised. The woman supervising that location was talking to one two-year-old at the time that the other two-year-old was descending steps. The other child came from the other way at an angle. They bumped into each other within 12-15 feet of the woman, who hadn’t thought they would bump into each other. She testified she couldn’t have stopped them from colliding and didn’t caution them before the collision. However, she also testified that two-year-old kids needed more supervision than older children did.

The woman filled out an incident report, in which she explained that the plaintiff was running to the merry go round, while the other girl was running from the basketball court.

A doctor testified at a deposition that he’d treated the plaintiff and diagnosed her with a closed left femur fracture. Surgery was necessary, and it was performed, after which the two-year-old was put in a body cast. When the plaintiffs finished presenting evidence, the defendant moved for a directed verdict, which was denied.

The jury found for the plaintiffs, awarding $100,000 for the child’s personal injuries and over $19,000 to the mother as reimbursement for the medical expenses she’d sustained to make sure the child got treatment. The defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a motion that was denied. The defendant appealed, arguing there wasn’t enough evidence for the plaintiff’s negligence claim to go to the jury.

The appellate court explained that in order to prevail, the plaintiff had to prove the defendant hadn’t exercised proper care with regard to a duty it owed the plaintiff, this failure was the legal cause of her injuries, and a person with ordinary prudence should have foreseen the injury was probable under the circumstances. The defendant argued that the only proof of liability was from its employee, who testified it didn’t seem like they were going to crash into each other. The appellate court explained that foreseeability must be there for proximate or legal cause to be there. Proximate or legal cause is that without which a plaintiff’s injuries wouldn’t have occurred. All the plaintiff needs to prove is that if the defendant had used reasonable care, it would have foreseen an injury would result from its actions.

In this case, the woman had testified her duties included keeping kids safe, and she was talking to the plaintiff when she came down the steps, while someone else was coming from the other way. She didn’t try to stop either girl and couldn’t have, even though she knew two-year-olds needed more supervision.

The appellate court held that the defendant could reasonably foresee that the chain of events would result in an injury. The woman had admitted she saw the kids running on the playground but didn’t give instructions or caution them. A history of similar incidents at the same daycare was not necessary; instead, the woman owed a duty to supervise, understood the victim and the other girl needed more supervision, saw them running, and failed to respond. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

If you or your child suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina personal injury attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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