Parents should carefully research daycares before choosing where to place their child. Careless actions or wrongdoing at a daycare could cause serious physical and emotional harm to a child. A daycare usually will have a license from the state or local government, which establishes that the provider meets certain minimum standards. (Certain providers may be exempt from meeting these standards, such as providers who operate only for limited hours or serve only a very small group of children.)
State licensing laws may address issues such as training requirements for staff members and practices for supervising children. Other requirements may cover:
The ratio of staff members to children, which may depend on the ages of the children
The size of each class
Hygienic and health practices, such as immunizations and handwashing
Nutritional content of children’s food
The safety of the physical facility
If a child suffers injuries at a daycare, their parents should report the incident to the licensing authority in their state, which will start an investigation. Parents also may want to bring a claim against the provider for compensation.
Legal Claims Based on Daycare Injuries
Most claims involving injuries to a child at a daycare proceed under a theory of negligence. The person bringing the claim must show that the defendant failed to use the proper degree of care in the circumstances, and this caused the child’s injuries. A violation of a state regulation governing the profession would strongly indicate that the defendant did not meet the applicable standard of care. A prompt investigation of an incident may help uncover evidence of a violation that later could prove vital in a lawsuit.
If parents can establish the liability of a daycare provider for their child’s injuries, they can recover economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages cover the medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred in treating the injuries. If a child suffers a long-term or permanent disability, parents can recover damages for future treatment and for home modifications or other adaptations required for the disability. Meanwhile, non-economic damages address the more subjective effects of the injuries on the child. These might include pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Defective Products at Daycares
If injuries at a daycare resulted at least in part from the use of a defective product, such as a toy or equipment, parents may have a claim against the manufacturer of the product. They probably could rely on a theory of strict liability, which requires proving only the existence of a defect rather than a violation of a standard of care.
Crimes at Daycares
Unfortunately, some daycare employees physically or sexually abuse children entrusted to them. If they believe that their child suffered from abuse at a daycare, parents should immediately contact the police department as well as the licensing authority. A prosecutor eventually may file criminal charges against the wrongdoer. Even if they are not charged or convicted, though, a lawsuit based on the same conduct may succeed. Civil cases require only proof by a preponderance of the evidence (“more likely than not”), while criminal cases must meet a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
If a daycare failed to conduct background checks and properly vet an applicant during the hiring process, parents may be able to hold the daycare liable under a negligent hiring theory. Similarly, if a daycare failed to respond to a series of concerning incidents involving an employee, it might be liable under a theory of negligent supervision or retention. Holding a daycare liable in addition to the individual employee may make a difference because the daycare may be better able to fully compensate a child and their parents.