Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 4, 2020

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A Washington jury found that the State was liable for the wrongful death of a two year old boy who wandered from a day care facility and drowned in a nearby lake. The jury found that the owners of the day care were also partly to blame, but found that the State’s wrongful licensing of the facility carried the greatest amount of negligence and ordered it to pay over 80% of the $11.7 million in damages awarded.

What happened?

According to news reports, the State of Washington licensed a Pierce County day care facility whose fenced area only included the back yard. A two year old boy wandered out the unfenced front yard, crossed a busy street and headed for a nearby lake. His body was found floating in that lake only a few hours after he left the facility.

His parents sued the facility and several departments of Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) alleging that they were grossly negligent in the death of the child. In particular, they alleged that the State should not have licensed a facility whose front yard was not fenced.

Why did the State license the day care facility?

That question was a key part of the trial. The boy’s family claimed that DSHS rules required that a facility’s front yard be fenced in order to be licensed; the State claimed that the rules did not require it. The plaintiff’s lawyer’s arguments were apparently more persuasive than the State’s as the jury awarded them $11.7 million – 80 percent of that being attributed to the State and the other 20 percent to the day care’s owners.

Why experience matters…

As this case shows, an attorney’s experience plays a key role in proving liability. The attorney in this case was able to show that the State’s licensing personnel were not adequately trained and that while DSHS rules were unclear as to which areas of the day care facility should have been fenced, the State should have known that an unfenced area by a busy street and near a lake was a dangerous condition.

If you or a family member has been injured due to the negligence of another, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your situation. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential. Lawyers whose practices focus in this area of law generally work on a contingency fee bases – which means that they don’t get paid unless and until you recover.