Louisiana Court of Appeal Awards Family $325K After Toddler Breaks Arm on Daycare’s Age-Inappropriate Daycare Equipment

A Jefferson Parish couple received a damages award in excess of $300,000 after their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter broke her arm while playing on a piece of playground equipment meant for children ages five and up. The fact that the child’s daycare satisfied the state’s standards for the minimum teacher-to-child supervision ratios did not automatically shield it from liability. Even though the daycare was adequately staffed, the Louisiana Court of Appeal decided that it could be found liable for not preventing the child from playing on equipment unsafe for someone of her age.

The accident victim was Kaitlyn Skillman, a toddler who attended the daycare facility owned and operated by the Riverside Baptist Church in Jefferson Parish. In September 2010, the 19-month-old girl fell from some playground equipment and injured her arm. The playset from which the child fell was recommended for children no younger than age five.

At the emergency room, doctors diagnosed a fractured arm. The injury required three surgeries to correct. After her third surgery, the child developed a deformity in her arm. The child’s pediatric orthopedic surgeon testified in court that the girl would need three or four more surgeries to fix the deformity.

The parents sued the church, its insurer, and several teachers responsible for supervising the children in the daycare program. The jury awarded the parents slightly more than $100,000 for past and future medical expenses, but, after the parents requested a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the trial judge upped the total judgment to $225,000.

Both sides appealed. The church argued that, since it complied with the state government’s standards for teacher-to-child supervision ratios, neither it nor the teachers could be liable for the child’s injury. The appeals court rejected this argument. A daycare’s duty to the children in its program goes beyond just ensuring that there are enough teachers on staff to meet the state’s teacher-to-children ratios.

Even though the daycare at Riverside had enough teachers, there were other problems that allowed a judgment of liability. The playset where the child fell was age-inappropriate for a 19-month-old. Since the daycare’s teachers allowed the Skillmans’ daughter to play on this playset, the parents had sufficient proof to allow the jury to conclude that the daycare violated its duty of care to the toddler.

The appeals court rejected the daycare’s effort to assign some of the blame to the child’s mother for allegedly previously allowing the toddler to play on the same playset. Even if the mother allowed the child to play on the playset before, this was not enough to assign blame to her, since the circumstances were not analogous. The mother would have been monitoring the child 100% of the time in a 1-on-1 setting, as opposed to two daycare teachers observing 15 children (as was the case when the Skillmans’ daughter fell).

The appeals court also concluded that the trial judge incorrectly ruled that, once he granted the parents’ motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, he could only award the minimum for each category of damages. Once the trial judge granted the parents’ request for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the law required him to make his own independent assessment of the victim’s injuries and harm.

After reviewing the evidence in the Skillmans’ case, the appeals court raised the damages amount from $225,000 to $325,000.

A landowner who allows others on its property, whether it is a store, a daycare, or a private citizen, owes those lawfully entering the property some degree of duty regarding their safety. If you’ve suffered an injury on another’s premises, consult the Louisiana injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our injury attorneys can help you as you seek a fair recovery for your injuries.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

‘Open and Obvious’ Hazards and Premises Liability Cases in Louisiana, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, June 29, 2015

The Theory of Respondeat Superior, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Jan. 9, 2015

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