March 24, 2014

Parents win judgment against child care provider in 2011 death of infant

A Sedgwick County judge has ordered a consent judgment in favor of the parents of a baby who died in a Wichita day care home in 2011, claiming the child care provider’s negligence contributed to the boy’s death.

A Sedgwick County judge has ordered a consent judgment in favor of the parents of a baby who died in a Wichita day care home in 2011, claiming the child care provider’s negligence contributed to the boy’s death.

An attorney for the parents, Brock and Christina Mosier, say the $950,000 judgment against Karin M. Patterson, ordered last month by District Court Judge Jeffry Goering, is primarily symbolic.

The child care provider did not have insurance, and as part of the judgment the Mosiers agreed not to attempt to collect money now or in the future. Rather, the parents and their attorneys plan to use the judgment to lobby for stricter child care laws and regulations in Kansas.

“Instead of just cutting the case and telling them there’s no money, we wanted to do something positive,” said Blake Shuart, an attorney with Hutton & Hutton Law Firm in Wichita, which pursued the case pro bono.

“So we’re beginning the process of lobbying this summer and fall, in advance of the 2015 legislative session, for potential legislation to fix a couple problems.”

They plan to push for a new law that would make child care providers’ information – including relevant background, inspection reports and disciplinary actions – free and easily accessible on the Internet, Shuart said. They also want a state requirement that all licensed child care providers carry liability insurance.

“It’s too late for Bryce. This isn’t going to bring him back,” Brock Mosier said of his son, who died while in Patterson’s care in August 2011. He was 5 months old.

“But we’re really hoping this can be the stepping stone for something bigger … that will protect other kids and other families.”

The Mosiers’ case drew international attention in 2012 after the couple launched a Facebook page and online petition asking state officials to revoke Patterson’s day care license.

The couple later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the provider, alleging that their son’s death – which a coroner ruled to be from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – could have been prevented if Patterson had followed safe-sleep practices, including laying the baby on his back to nap and checking on him regularly while he slept.

According to the consent judgment, “the Mosiers’ allegations are accepted as true.”

The judgment says Patterson’s general homeowners’ insurance policy did not cover her day care business. It further notes that “she was never informed that it was necessary to carry specific and/or separate insurance coverage for her day care business, and that she was granted a license to operate her business by the State of Kansas despite failing to carry insurance.”

Patterson, who had operated Karin’s Kids in north Wichita, no longer holds a child care license or operates a day care home, Shuart said.

Reached by telephone Monday afternoon, Patterson would not comment. Her attorney, Craig Robinson, could not be reached for comment.

Bryce Mosier died about six months before several “Lexie’s Law” regulations – which more specifically address diapering, supervision, safe-sleep practices and playground oversight and established an online database of child care providers – went into effect.

State officials have said the new law turned around Kansas’ once-dismal reputation and now serves as a model for other states when it comes to oversight of small, family-run child care homes.

But Shuart said it doesn’t go far enough. For example, he said, parents shopping for child care can’t easily access the entire database of providers, and they can’t get certain background information without filing a request under the Kansas Open Records Act and paying for documents.

After Bryce’s death, the Mosiers started asking questions, checking online databases, looking into Patterson’s day care history and requesting additional paperwork.

Brock Mosier said he had to wait two months and pay nearly $100 for documents, including inspection reports from an investigation in 2003 after a complaint that Patterson left a sleeping child unattended in a car on a 100-degree day while she went to a garage sale.

After a visit to her day care home in 2003, a state official noted several additional violations, including unsupervised children, and wrote, “Recommend enforcement action before these children are more neglected!”

“We’re hoping to make it a lot easier to access that stuff,” Brock Mosier said Monday. “If you’re looking for day care, you want to know that.”

Shuart, the attorney, said requiring liability insurance for day care providers makes sense. So does easier access to information for families considering or shopping for child care.

“I think the objective is a widely accessible, free, all-encompassing, comprehensive website that has anything and everything on it,” he said. “Everything just accessible and downloadable on the Internet.”

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