Action: Child abuse
Injuries alleged: Pediatric post-traumatic stress disorder, adverse childhood experience, minor skin irritation
Case name: Withheld
Court/case no.: Withheld
Mediator: Asa Bell
Amount: $250,000 settlement
Special damages: $579.63 for recoverable medical expenses
Date: July 25, 2023
Most helpful expert: Katrina Kuzyszyn-Jones of Durham, forensic psychologist
Attorneys: Justin Osborn and Matthew Gambale of Osborn, Gamble, Beckley & Budd, Raleigh (for the plaintiff)
By Rasmus S. Jorgensen
A girl who was sprayed with bleach by a day care teacher in a caught-on-camera incident will receive $250,000 following a settlement, the child’s attorney said.
When being picked up one day, the then-4-year-old girl had what appeared to be bleach stains on her clothes. An employee suggested cleaning product residue in a bathroom might have caused the stains, but video obtained from the day care showed a teacher picking up the spray bottle of bleach from her desk, walking to the child and spraying toward her for several seconds, said Justin Osborn of Osborn Gambale Beckley & Budd of Raleigh, who represents the girl and her mother.
The teacher initially denied that the spraying occurred, but after being confronted with the video evidence, the teacher involved claimed the incident was accidental, Osborn said.
Footage showed the teacher had used the bleach to clean a few minutes earlier and then placed the bottle on her desk, which also had a water spray bottle in a different color, according to the attorney.
“And we argued, there is a moment after she sprayed the kids where she appears to look at the bottle on her desk, kind of get confused and then pick up the right bottle to spray another kid with water later on,” Osborn said. “And we think that was evidence of her realizing her mistake but not owning up to it.”
Osborn also argued that the day care failed to keep the children safe, in part because the teacher had not received mandatory training and in part because a N.C. Department of Health and Human Services investigation found that at least six teachers at the day care had regularly been spraying children with water, against state child care laws. According to Osborn, the day care had previously been warned and received citations for failing to train its staff.
“This type of behavior, I don’t think, can go on for years without either an administration turning a blind eye to it or an administration tolerating it,” Osborn said. “That was the way we positioned the case: Either you put your head in the sand, or you knew it was happening and you didn’t intervene.”
After the incident, the girl was diagnosed with pediatric post-traumatic stress disorder. A pediatric forensic psychologist confirmed the diagnosis and opined that the incident amounted to an adverse childhood experience, known as ACE, which plays an important role in childhood development.
The child’s mother claimed negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress. This was the second time one of her children was injured at a child care facility, and she had reservations about enrolling her child but received reassurances from the day care director, including how the teachers are regularly monitored through surveillance cameras.