The father of a toddler who died from abuse in January has put the state Department of Child Services and a Shelbyville hospital on notice that he plans legal action to hold them accountable for his son’s death.
Indianapolis lawyer Michael J. Woody filed a tort claim notice — the first step required before filing a lawsuit against the state — against DCS on behalf of Jerraco Noel, Shelbyville.
Noel’s 1-year-old son, Jayden, died from abuse Jan. 18.
That was six months after Noel reported to DCS that his son had been abused. The child was treated for his injuries July 15, 2011, at the Major Hospital emergency room.
Woody also submitted a letter this week to the Shelbyville hospital, informing officials Noel plans to pursue a medical negligence claim against the hospital and emergency room doctor who treated Jayden.
“Children like Jayden are helpless,” Woody explained Friday. “Unless the professionals who are paid to protect these kids do their jobs, the children are at the mercy of their abusers.”
In the tort claim notice filed against DCS, Noel alleges the agency “failed to conduct a reasonable investigation” after he made a report to the agency last summer.
Stephanie McFarland, a DCS spokeswoman, confirmed the agency received Noel’s claim notice Thursday.
“We’re currently reviewing it,” she said, “and will await a formal response from the Attorney General’s office.”
Noel is “asking DCS to take personal responsibility and accountability for its role in failing to protect Jayden,” the claim says. He is seeking $700,000 in damages, the state cap for such claims, “for loss of love and affection” of his son.
The agency investigated Noel’s report last summer, but “unsubstantiated” the allegation, according to DCS documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star through a public records request.
Noel contends that investigation was faulty. His claim says DCS failed to communicate with any of Jayden’s healthcare providers after the abuse report and also did not consult with any child abuse experts about the nature and alleged circumstances of Jayden’s injuries.
The shortcoming of that investigation and the failure of DCS to intervene, the claim says, resulted in Jayden’s death from a subsequent bout of abuse.
Jayden died from “multiple blunt-force traumatic injuries to the head,” the Marion County coroner determined. His death was ruled a homicide.
Jayden’s mother, Chelsea Taylor, and Ryan Worline, her boyfriend at the time Jayden died, have been charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death.
Woody’s letter to the hospital contends the attending physician and nurses who treated the injured infant on July 15, 2011, “failed to put Jayden Noel’s safety first,” even though they initially suspected abuse. They “knew or should have known,” the letter says, that Jayden was at a high risk for abuse.
“Unfortunately, the healthcare providers in this case somehow decided that it was safe to send a baby back to an environment where heavy toys are being dropped on the baby’s head at four in the morning by the mom’s boyfriend,” the letter says.
A spokeswoman for hospital CEO Jack Horner said he could not comment on Noel’s claims. However, Horner last month defended the hospital’s handling of the case, saying staff acted appropriately and followed hospital policy.
A Marion County judge, however, disagreed.
In July, Judge Marilyn Moores criticized the emergency room doctor’s failure to notify DCS of Jayden’s hospital visit, saying the physician should have reported his suspicion that Jayden’s injuries were the result of abuse. That criticism was included in a court order approving The Star’s request for Jayden’s DCS records.
State officials basically have two options in responding to Noel’s claim: They can agree to pay a settlement or they can deny the claim. If it is denied, Noel can proceed with a lawsuit against DCS.
From 2006-2010, about 100 tort claim notices were filed against DCS, according to data provided to The Star earlier this year by the Attorney General’s office. All were denied.
Only about 20 of the people who submitted claims that were denied ultimately filed suits against the state, and just three resulted in settlements.
The state paid out a total of $297,000 in those cases. That included $210,000 to the family of an Indianapolis girl who died in a foster home after an advocate had raised concerns about the child’s care and safety.
Woody previously represented another child abuse victim’s family in case similar to Noel’s that resulted in a $400,000 jury verdict against Clarian Health Partners in 2008.
“Jerraco just wants the system to protect children,” Woody said of Noel’s motivation.
“We hope that holding those responsible accountable will help protect babies who are going to be in Jayden’s position in the future.”