Author: Deborah La Fetra
This week, PLF asked the Texas Supreme Court to review a "deep pockets" case that has the potential to affect the availability and affordability of daycare facilities throughout the state. In Hyde Park Baptist Church v. Turner, a teacher intentionally knocked a toddler to the ground, where he got a bump on the head. The teacher then resigned before her church employer fired her. When the boy’s mother found out about the injury two weeks later, she sued the church and the teacher. The judgment-proof teacher settled for $5,000, but the mother won a jury verdict for $100,000 for the toddler’s "future mental anguish" allegedly resulting from the bump. (Despite subjecting the boy to $34,000 worth of testing, doctors found no injury beyond the initial bump).
The Texas Court of Appeals held that the jury could reasonably find the church, which was found to have negligently supervised the teacher, was 80% responsible for the boy’s bump and subsequent mental anguish. In PLF’s brief, we urge the Texas Supreme Court to review and reverse this decision, arguing that the adverse public policy consequences of condoning this award invites deep-pockets lawsuits against less culpable, but wealthier defendants; increasing costs in the already overburdened daycare industry.
Census data shows that there are 9,281 daycare centers in Texas added to 16,765 family child care homes, providing care for a total of 929,381 children, but some 200,000 fewer places than the number of children actually requiring care. To the extent that families are priced out of licensed daycare facilities, they will place their children in unlicensed facilities or perhaps will simply be unable to work. Given the inadequate child care facilities available at present, it makes little sense as a matter of public policy to unleash the plaintiffs’ bar, with new and expanded power, to go after daycare centers for increasingly large damage awards.