Every year I give a lecture to other New York accident and personal injury lawyers across New York State on the issue of “Municipal Liability”. Before my lecture, I review the recent case law in New York on this issue. This is a complex topic. Suing New York municipalities (its Counties, Cities, School Districts, Villages, Towns and other local governmental units) is tough to do. The government has given itself all kinds of special defenses to lawsuits for injuries it causes through its negligence and wrongdoing.
Every year when I read the new cases, I find at least one, and usually several, cases of foster parent abuse, mistreatment or neglect of a foster child. What do these cases have to do with municipal liability? Usually, the County and its Department of Social Services are sued for having negligently placed the foster child in the foster home where abuse was likely to occur, or for having failed to properly monitor or supervise the foster home.
These cases are very tough for me to read. I love children (I have five!) and feel very protective of them. This year I read the case of Adam H. v. County of Orange, where the mother of a foster child sued Orange County and its Social Services Department when her four infant children were sexually abused while in foster care. All four of them!
Some people might be surprised that New York foster care neglect or abuse lawyers would sue the County, and its Department of Social Services, rather than the foster parents themselves. Actually, the foster parents are usually sued, too, but since they seldom have money to pay the judgment, and their homeowner’s insurance won’t cover intentional abuse, New York lawyers representing foster care abuse or neglect victims look to the County for compensation.
The lawsuit against the County and its agent, the Department of Social Services, will generally only be successful if the County failed in its duty to carefully investigate the foster home before placing the child there, or later failed to properly supervise and inspect the foster care home for neglect, abuse or other dangers, and to remove the child if he or she was in danger.
Almost all foster parents are loving, caring people who take foster children in for charitable purposes. They deserve our praise and admiration. But as in every human endeavor, there are always bad apples. The County’s job is to act reasonably in trying to remove those bad apples. When they don’t, and a foster child is hurt, abused or neglected — call a New York foster care injury lawyer.