Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Case Law Development: Immunity for Child Abuse Reporting

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas provides a fine example of the strength of the immunity for child abuse reporting by medical professionals.  The court, applying Tennessee law, granted summary judgment to doctors who reported suspected child abuse to authorities when a seven-month-old child had a rib fracture.  The fractures turned out to be caused by a tumor.

Mother sued under theories of false light and outrage torts, claiming that the doctors acted in bad faith by not communicating the possibility of a secondary diagnosis to authorities.  The court, in granting judgment to the defendants, emphasized the strict proof requirements necessary to overcome immunity for child abuse reporting.  The court emphasized that Immunity extends to the diagnosis, reporting, and subsequent communications with state officials and is presumed to be in good faith and those seeking to overcome that presumption must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the report was made in bad faith.  This proof will ordinarily require expert testimony regarding the unreasonableness of the doctors opinion or report and affirmative proof of bad faith in making that report. Here, "Plaintiff at most has demonstrated a disagreement among physicians, but she cites no authority suggesting that such disagreement is to be made a part of the reporting requirement or that failure to acknowledge such disagreement in the report of suspected abuse constitutes bad faith." 

Sanders v. Lakin, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21940 (E.D. Ark. March 30, 2006)bgf

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