As an experienced Atlanta, Georgia trial lawyer, I’ve successfully argued numerous day care personal injury and wrongful death cases over my years of practice. Nothing is more heartbreaking and frustrating than a preventable death, especially if the victim happens to be a child. So when I first learned of the recent news that a 2 year-old girl died under the noses of local day care employees, my heart sank.
The victim was left unattended for nearly two hours in a van, where temperatures quickly soared to a sweltering 140 degrees. Confined by the straps of her car seat with no means of escape, the child was left to suffer a lengthy, horrific end to such an abbreviated life. Police arrested Marlo Maria Fallings, the administrator of Marlo’s Magnificent Early Learning Center near Jonesboro, Georgia and her staff member, Quantabia Shantell Hopkins, on Tuesday, June 21. They are both being charged with involuntary manslaughter, cruelty to children and reckless conduct. They have already been released on $35,000 bond. These charges certainly fit the crime, however, more action needs to be taken in order to send a message to day care centers throughout the state that negligent conduct is a serious offense and will not be tolerated.
There may have been warning signs about the Clayton County Day Care Center. In March, Bright from the Start, the State agency that regulates day care centers, cited the center for not documenting a field trip and the children who were transported, according to the report. The report itself says the regulation was only “partially met” but, really, it was totally unmet. The report states:
“Finding 591-1-1-.36 (6)(d) requires that at the completion of every trip, a check must be made to assure that no child remains on the vehicle. The center staff did not initial or document the field trip form for children transported on October 26, 2010. POI (Plan of Improvement) The center will instruct staff regarding this safety measure. Correction Deadline – 03/01/2011”
So, this day care center didn’t document any child getting on OR off the day care van and it obviously didn’t remedy the situation by the March 1, 2011 deadline. Where was the follow up by the Georgia Department of Human Resources? This is egregious. In Tennessee, the Tenneesee Department of Human Resources this summer issued new reminders and warnings to day care centers about not leaving children behind in day care vans. “We know child-care providers share our concern about the need for increased vigilance during the hot summer months to ensure children are not left in vehicles,” DHS Commissioner Raquel Hatter said. As part of this increased vigilance, the Tennessee DHS licensing staff will be making extra visits to monitor child-care agencies. Where were the reminders from the Georgia DHS?
The next step toward justice, of course, should be civil action. Georgia law requires day cares such as the one in this case to check all vehicles after trips “to assure that no child remains in the vehicle.” Obviously, Ms. Fallings and her staff failed to abide by this simple statute and, therefore, should be held accountable.
I’m tired of hearing about preventable deaths such as this one that result from pure negligence. Last year alone, 49 children in the United States reportedly died from heat exhaustion while locked inside a vehicle. On a local note, Monday’s wrongful death was the second in metro Atlanta in less than a month involving a child trapped inside a vehicle. On May 25th, a five month-old girl died in a similar manner after being locked in an automobile for five hours outside a Kennesaw, Georgia day care center. These incidents are both preventable and unacceptable, and the responsible entities should be punished to the fullest extent of the law both civilly and criminally. My heart goes out to the parents of this little child.