DSHS’ Negligent Investigation of Child Abuse
In 2011, on the eve of trial, Tamaki Law reached settlement with DSHS in the amount of $6.55 million for six clients who were sexually and physically abused as children in a home that DSHS knew was abusive and unsafe.
In their investigation of the case, Tamaki Law discovered over 30 complaints, putting DSHS on notice of the physical and sexual abuse that was occurring in the children’s home. Despite these complaints, CPS left the defenseless children in the abusive home.
Under Washington law, the Department of Social and Health Services/Child Protective Services is required to investigate allegations of sexual abuse:
Upon receipt of a report concerning the possible occurrence of abuse or neglect, it shall be the duty of the law enforcement agency or the department of social and health services to investigate and provide the protective services section with a report in accordance with chapter 74.13 RCW, and where necessary to refer such report to the court…
RCW 26.44.050 (1987). It is from this statute that Washington’s Supreme Court has held that a cause of action for negligent investigation exists. Bennett v. Hardy, 113 Wash.2d 912, 920 (1990). However, “the class of persons who may sue for negligent investigation is limited to those specifically mentioned in RCW 26.44.050, namely, parents, custodians, and guardians, and the child or children themselves.” Bennett at 704-705. Further, the Washington courts have recognized that “this statute creates an actionable duty that flows from DSHS to both children and parents who are harmed by DSHS negligence that results in…allowing a child to remain in an abusive home.” M.W. v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 149 Wash.2d 589, 597-98 (2003).
In the lawsuit, Tamaki Law discovered that DSHS destroyed important records pertaining to their clients and the complaints that were made to CPS. Fortunately, many medical and counseling records remained, documenting the time-span and severity of abuse. Through these medical records and a portion of electronic records kept by CPS, the Tamaki Law team was able to expose CPS’ failures to follow up on the complaints they received and/or accurately assess the severity of the complaints and take action.
The settlement obtained by Tamaki Law has helped their six clients cope and deal with the aftermath of the abuse they suffered, and provide the means to receive the medical care they need.