Child Abuse: Physician May Be Liable for Not Reporting

August 1, 2011 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​The Washington Supreme Court ruled that a primary care physician and a psychiatrist who cared for a boy who died from starvation and dehydration after years of abuse and neglect may be liable in civil court for not reporting the abuse under a state law that requires certain professions to report child abuse. The mandatory reporting statute does not explicitly provide a private cause of action for failure to report.

The boy weighed only 28 pounds when he died on his seventh birthday. The state child protection agency was called to his home 23 times to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect by his adoptive mother. Three of those visits were specifically for the child: in June 1999, he had a fractured femur and bruises; in July 1999, his two front teeth had been knocked out; and in 2004, he had bruises on his cheeks and nose and a 1.5-inch mark on his side from being kicked down the stairs. The lawsuit was brought by the personal...

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