The Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) appeals the trial court’s final judgment against DCF finding DCF negligent and awarding the complainants as guardians and adoptive parents of a child, the sum of $26,849,849.06. DCF raises several issues on appeal that the Appellate Court affirms without comment. The Court of Appeals addresses only DCF’s argument that the complainants failed to prove a legitimate case of negligence. It affirmed the final judgment because the complainants presented competent substantial evidence that DCF was negligent and that the negligence was the proximate cause of the spinal injuries sustained by two-year-old child.
The vast majority of the material facts in this case are undisputed. DCF first became involved in this case when representatives at the Miami Children’s Hospital (MCH) called the DCF hotline because the child’s biological mother failed to come to the hospital on December 8, 2000, the date of the child’s discharge. A Suffolk woman, who is the DCF protective investigator assigned to the case, began her formal investigation on December 9, 2000. She testified that she was concerned that the mother did not show up to the hospital on the date of the child’s discharge because she was more interested in getting her boyfriend out of jail, that the mother hardly ever visited or called the hospital while the child was hospitalized for a month, that the hospital had difficulty getting the mother to come to the hospital and sign consents, that when the mother did come to the hospital the child would cry and the mother spanked the child in her hospital bed while the child cried, and that the hospital informed the investigator that the child did not appear very bonded to the mother. In her testimony, the investigator expressed concern because the child’s x-ray results showed a fractured clavicle, for which the mother had no explanation. The investigator also testified that the mother’s boyfriend was living with the mother and the child, and in her training and experience as a DCF protective investigator, boyfriends who live in the home with the child and are not related by blood or marriage to the child are a safety risk to the child because they are not the child’s natural father and have been responsible for abuse situations.
Due to concerns that the mother was not going to be able to provide the necessary follow-up care for her child, the investigator, the mother, and the head of the child advocacy team (CAT) at the hospital met at the hospital on December 11, 2000. The head of CAT testified that clavicle fractures are usually low risk and not of great concern; however, he was concerned because it was an unexplained injury. Although the CAT head testified that he had no recollection or notes of CAT reporting a concern of physical abuse to DCF, he wrote in his CAT consult that the child is a high risk child who should not be released to home until we can more fully insure that the environment is safe and nurturing. The Westchester investigator admitted in her testimony that the CAT head advised her that a home study should be completed first before the child was returned to her home. The investigator also testified that after meeting with the CAT head, she suspected physical abuse.