Spartanburg Co. jury finds DSS negligent, awards family of abuse - FOX Carolina 21

Spartanburg Co. jury finds DSS negligent, awards family of abused baby $3.75 M

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Baby sleeping in crib (Wikimedia Commons) Baby sleeping in crib (Wikimedia Commons)

A Spartanburg County jury has awarded the family of a baby girl who was badly beaten more than three million dollars after finding the Department of Social Services negligent in investigating reports of abuse in the child’s case.

A verdict reached on March 13 orders $3.75 million be paid to the victim’s family for compensatory damages, according to a news release from Hite and Stone Attorneys at Law. The actual amount paid to the family will be reduced due to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act caps on judgments against the State, the law firm said.

Hite and Stone partnered with the Foster Care Abuse Law Firm of Manning, SC to litigate the case.

The lawsuit stated that the baby girl, who was one-year-old at the time of the abuse, was living with her mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend.  A relative who knew the child was being abuse reportedly complained to DSS on multiple occasions, twice on the phone and once in person.

The relative told DSS about the boyfriend’s history domestic violence and her fears of drug use in the home.

The lawsuit claimed DSS failed to investigate at all and the boyfriend brutally attacked the baby girl a few weeks later.

“He hit the toddler in the face, bit her multiple times on her back and buttocks, broke both her arms and her right leg and ripped out large chunks of her hair,” a news release from Hite and Stone states. “She did not receive medical attention until the next day.  She was hospitalized for several days in the intensive care unit.  She also tested positive for cocaine at the hospital. “

The baby’s orthopedic surgeon testified that her bone breaks happened at different times over a period of a few weeks and that the abuse the girl endured was ongoing and chronic.   

Hite and Stone said the jury found that DSS “had a legal duty to investigate the reports of abuse and that the failure to investigate was grossly negligent,” the news release stated.

“Had DSS investigated this matter they could have prevented the abuse that this poor baby had to suffer.  We are pleased that the jury stood up for this child,” Attorney Heather Hite Stone stated in the news release.

DSS issued the following statement on the case:

The abuse inflicted on Baby Girl Smith in 2013 is a heartbreaking tragedy. It underscores the need for the entire child welfare community—child protective services, law enforcement, the courts, private partners, child advocates, and medical professionals—to stay vigilant in our responses to children who are at risk so that tragedies like this one can be avoided. For DSS, this requires that child welfare intake and assessment practices are continuously examined and improved, so that investigations are initiated in proportion to the level of risk to a child. In early 2015, with new leadership in the Department and increased resources approved by the General Assembly, work commenced to implement more consistent assessment practices through the Department’s new regional intake hubs, and county offices. As a result, significantly more abuse and neglect allegations now meet the test for investigation, as opposed to screening out for community intervention. The number of intake decisions in 2013 was 32,039; that number has almost doubled, to 53,126 in 2016. DSS will continue to strengthen its intake and assessment processes, and the General Assembly is supporting that effort through the funding of intake hub staff, second and third shift caseworkers, and child protective services caseworkers. 

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