June 16, 2006
Case Law Development: Arkansas Supreme Court Holds Mandatory Reporter Law Vague
The Arkansas Supreme Court has overturned a jury verdict against a clinic in a child-abuse case. The ruling says that state law is vague on whether such institutions have to report suspected abuse. The case involved a three-year-old boy who was twice brought into a medical clinic to the same doctor, who suspected child abuse but was assured by the child's father that the abuse was at the hands of his ex-wife and that he would report it. The doctor did not hotline the abuse. When the child later died and his father was convicted, the estate of the child sued both the doctor and the clinic.
The Arkansas Supreme Court said the clinic couldn't be held liable for a practitioner's failure to report the suspected abuse. The Supreme Court concluded that state law requires medical professionals, social workers and others to report child abuse, but said the law didn't say whether institutions like clinics were required to report it. While the statute does include "institutions" in the list of mandatory reporters, the court held that it was unclear whether that was meant to include medical clinics.
Because the court concluded that the clinic had no duty to report, it held that it also could not be held vicariously liable for the doctor's failure to report.
Cooper Clinic v. Barnes, Arkansas Supreme Court 05-1166 (June 15, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited June 16, 2006)
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