Group Homes’ Liability for the Wrongful Death of Children

Group homes in Maryland care for children who may be the responsibility of the state because the parents’ parental rights have been terminated or the parents and family members cannot properly care for their children. Group homes can include those for foster children and those with severe physical, emotional or psychiatric challenges that often require around-the-clock attention. Often Medical Assistance (Medicaid) pays the cost of care.

It can be a difficult decision to put a child in a group home, but it may be the right choice if a family simply cannot properly keep up with the child’s needs. Though many children are well cared for in group homes, there are also group homes that are either overwhelmed by their residents’ needs (whether that be due to understaffing or undertrained staff) or simply have uncaring staff members. These situations can lead to serious injuries or deaths to children that are supposed to be well cared for.

If a child in the care of a group home dies because of negligence or an intentional act by the home’s management or employees, the child’s family members may be able to sue the group home to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act allows for a legal action to be filed against a person whose wrongful act, or acts, caused the death of another person.

  • “Wrongful act” is defined as “an act, neglect, or default including a felonious act which would have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued.”
  • The primary beneficiaries of wrongful death actions are the spouse, parent and child of the decedent.
  • In cases where the deceased is a child, the law does not limit damages to financial losses, if any, but compensates the decedent’s parents for “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable.”

In most cases, the cause of the death is a negligent act, or a failure to act, on behalf of the group home or an employee. Negligence can be proven by evidence showing the following:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, and
  • That duty of care was breached, and
  • That breach was the factual and legal cause of the child’s death, and
  • Damages to the plaintiffs resulted because of that breach and the child’s death.

Group homes are under a duty to keep residents safe and to care for their medical needs. Possible breaches of care may include:

  • Ignoring a resident’s medical needs. If a condition is not properly cared for, it may worsen, cause complications or result in an infection.
  • Insufficient staffing can lead to residents being inadequately supervised, which can allow a resident to leave the facility on his or her own, fall, suffocate, or otherwise become injured; it can also result in lack of care in an accident or medical emergency.
  • If the resident is being driven somewhere, the group home’s driver may act negligently, causing an accident which leads to injuries or deaths.
  • An inappropriate placement may leave a vulnerable group home resident at the mercy of a violent resident.
  • The furniture, equipment or the building itself may be unsafe, leading to serious injuries.
  • Staff may not be properly screened; they may lack experience or training or be unqualified for the work they’re hired to do.
  • Improper administration of medications includes under- or over-dosing the resident or providing the wrong drug.

In a series of 2014 articles, the Baltimore Sun detailed problems with state-funded group homes that were caring for “medically fragile” children. Problems found by inspectors for the State of Maryland were as follows: improper treatment of bed sores, inadequate staffing, paralyzed children left in their own feces and urine, and residents who were not being properly fed. One ten-year-old boy who died while under the care of a group home needed one-on-one care, but at the time of his death his caretaker was looking after three children.

If you placed a child in a group home and he or she died due to someone’s negligence, don’t blame yourself. If you couldn’t care for your loved one, you had to make a hard decision, one that you made to the best of your ability. Hold the negligent parties, the ones truly to blame, accountable for their mistakes.

If you have lost a child who was under the care of a group home, you are understandably devastated by the loss. Few attorneys handle these types of cases, but Roger Weinberg has significant experience representing victims and family members when abuse or neglect occurs in group homes and, in some cases, when a wrongful death has occurred.

At the Law Offices of Roger S. Weinberg, LLC, we pride ourselves on giving compassionate and competent representation to families suffering the injury or loss of a loved one. If you suspect that a group home was guilty of negligence, bring your concerns to our office by calling 1-866-529-5839 or contact us online. We’ll help you begin an investigation that may result in compensation and justice.

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