Dismissal and Summary Judgment Granted in Favor of ER Physician and HospitalAugust 10, 2023
The plaintiff, the biological father and administrator of the estate of his son, brought suit against Manchester Memorial Hospital and an emergency department physician alleging negligence and negligence pe se for failure to report suspected abuse as required by the mandatory reporter statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101a, and negligent infliction of emotional distress upon the father. The plaintiff alleged that his 2-year-old son was brought to the Hospital ED in August of 2019 by his biological mother and grandmother for examination of a head injury. His mother reported that two days prior, her son accidentally tripped over a cord and struck his head on a bedframe. The child was examined and found to have swelling on the side of his head with a healing abrasion which was tender, but no other injuries and no significant medical history. He was diagnosed with a hematoma, discharged in stable condition, and his mother was instructed to follow up with her son’s pediatrician. Six weeks later, the child’s mother brought him back to the Hospital ED, at which time he was unresponsive, had multiple bruises and injuries in various stages of healing, was in cardiopulmonary arrest, and could not be resuscitated. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma and internal bleeding, allegedly perpetrated by the child’s mother’s live-in boyfriend.
According to the plaintiff, the Hospital’s ED physician should have suspected that his son’s head injury observed in August of 2019 was the result of abuse and not accidental, thereby triggering a duty to report suspected abuse to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. Attorneys Michael D. Neubert and Janine Hodgson succeeded in obtaining dismissal of the NIED claim on the basis that the child’s father was not a member of class protected by the statute and therefore, lacked standing to sue. Citing Doe v. Town of Madison, 340 Conn. 1 (2021) they then moved for summary judgment as to the remaining claims on the grounds that the facts presented to the Hospital’s ED physician in August of 2019 did not provide reasonable cause to suspect that the child was being abused or neglected, had a nonaccidental injury at variance with the history provided by his mother, or was at risk of serious harm; therefore, as a matter of law the defendants owed no duty to report. The trial court agreed, holding that the mere presence of bruising alone did not give rise to a reasonable suspicion of child abuse and there was no objective evidence presented to the ED physician to suggest a pattern of abuse, or that the child’s mother was lying about the circumstances of the accident. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the injury was not consistent with the mother’s explanation in that the child would have had a cut on his head rather than bruising and swelling because the bedframe had a sharp edge, finding that such a proposition was purely speculative. Finally, the court stressed that reasonable cause to suspect is an objective standard that cannot be influenced by the subsequent, tragic events which had occurred in the case. Est. of Girouard v. Darko, 2023 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1863 * (Conn. Super. Ct., July 12, 2023).