Ward v. Greene

Connecticut Supreme Court

267 Conn. 539 (2004)

February 3, 2004

 

The plaintiff, Patrice Ward, brought this action on behalf of Raegan McBride against the defendant, The Village for Families and Children, Inc [“Village”]. The Village is a private, nonprofit organization that contracts with individuals to provide foster care services and daycare services to children in state custody. In 1995, the Village had been contracting with Kathy Greene to provide foster and day care.

In 1996, the plaintiff sought the assistance of a day care provider for McBride. After learning of Greene’s services, the plaintiff, by contacting a public health hotline, confirmed that Greene did not have any complaints filed against her. In fact, Greene had only one complaint filed against her and was a “qualified” day care provider at the time. In 1997, Greene began providing full-time day care services to McBride. While under Greene’s care, McBride suffered a head injury and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Greene was subsequently convicted of manslaughter in the first degree.

The plaintiff then brought an action against the Village, claiming that the Village was liable for damages arising out of McBride’s death under Connecticut’s wrongful death statute. In order to support a claim for wrongful death, the plaintiff had to prove that Greene owed a duty of care to McBride. The plaintiff claimed that Village did owe McBride a duty of care under the statute requiring mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. The legal issue of first impression that subsequently arose concerned the scope of the class of persons that was protected by the mandatory reporting statute.

The Supreme Court concluded that the statutory language of Conn. Gen. Stat. §17a-101 et. seq. was directed at a child or children placed at risk in a singular incident. The Court held that the statutory language suggested that the legislature intended to focus only on those children who had already been exposed to conduct that amounted to a reportable event. A mandated reporter did not owe a legally enforceable duty to children unknown to the reporter who might stand in the remote chance of benefiting from a report of abuse. Therefore, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that the statute creates a duty of care to every child who had been in the care of the defendant.

In her dissent, Justice Katz stated that Village’s failure to report allegations of abuse by Greene constituted negligence per se. Katz opined that Village unreasonably failed to report allegations of child abuse and did owe a duty of care to both the abused child and to other children who came into the care of the alleged abuser.

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