Monday, March 14, 2011

Court Reviews a Wrongful Death Case Involving an Infant in the Custody of a DCS Placement Caretaker

IN RE: DEMITRUS M. T., A CHILD UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE, ET AL. (Tenn. Ct. App. March 14, 2011)

This is a wrongful death action filed in the Tennessee Claims Commission ("the Commission") by the parents and brother ("the Claimants") of six month old Demitrus M. T. ("the Infant" or "Demitrus"), individually and on behalf of Demitrus, after he drowned in a bathtub while in the care of Sherika Hamilton, a friend of the family identified in a Tennessee Department of Child Services ("DCS" or "the Department") safety plan as the "placement caretaker." There is no dispute that Hamilton left the Infant unattended in the bathtub while she was otherwise occupied in an adjacent room.

The primary disputes at trial before the Commissioner, and on appeal, are whether the Infant was in the "care, custody and control" of the Department so as to provide jurisdiction to the Commission; whether the Department's "Case Recordings," some of which were made more than a month after the event they purport to record, are inadmissible hearsay; and whether it was foreseeable to the Department that Hamilton would leave the helpless Infant unattended in a bathtub and let him drown. The Commission found that it had jurisdiction because the Department had control of the Infant even though it did not have custody, that the Case Recordings were admissible, and that the Department was not negligent because it could not have foreseen this tragic event. The Claimants appeal. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and vacate the dismissal on the merits.

Opinion available at:

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