Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jury awards $3 million to Pinellas boy whose leg was broken in KinderCare day care center

CLEARWATER — The 10-month-old boy was squirming on the day care center's diapering table. The caregiver — frustrated that he wouldn't stay put — bent his tiny leg back until it broke.

She didn't mean to hurt him, Stacey Doty told authorities at the time. She was just trying to hold him in place.

But when licensing officials and a Pinellas County jury took a closer look at the day care center owned by KinderCare, the nation's largest child care chain, they found a disturbing pattern.

Several workers and parents said they had told the center director that Doty was mishandling children. One co-worker said Doty had dropped a clipboard on a toddler's fingers as punishment and had picked up another toddler by the wrist and moved her across the room because she wouldn't obey.

Last week a jury awarded the boy whose leg was broken in 2006 $3 million in damages, $2 million of it punitive.

"KinderCare dropped the ball from top to bottom. If somebody is mishandling babies, you are responsible,'' juror Brian Fick said. "Stacey should have been discharged long before that.''

About the time the infant's leg was broken, licensing authorities were monitoring five of KinderCare's six Pinellas County centers for serious or repeat rule violations. KinderCare has since cleaned up its violation history.

"We deeply regret the incident that occurred,'' KinderCare spokeswoman Dr. Elanna Yalow said in a statement. "We remain committed, as we have for the past 40 years, to providing a safe place for children to learn, play and grow.''

Doty was fired after the broken leg, pleaded no contest to felony child abuse and was sentenced to a year in the Pinellas County Jail. She could not be reached for comment.

The boy's parents, Deon and April Esterhuizen, of Clearwater, declined comment through their St. Petersburg attorney, Wesley Straw.

The day care center, at 3245 Ulmerton Road, has been open 20 years. At the time of the broken leg, fees could run $1,000 a month, among the highest in the county.

Doty, now 35, was hired seven years ago. In 2005, the center called 911 to take her to the hospital — a few weeks after she was assigned to work alone with a class of toddlers. Director Sharon Bailey said Doty had a severe headache. A co-worker said Doty had an attack "caused by stress.''

She was reassigned the next day to an infant room with another caregiver and six children. Several co-workers later told authorities that the other caregiver had a peculiar habit: She would stretch a plastic bag across her face to distort it and make growling noises that would scare the babies.

In September 2006, the other caregiver went on a break, leaving Doty alone with the six infants. She broke the Esterhuizen boy's leg while changing his diaper.

When the parents' lawsuit went to trial last month, the boy's leg had long since healed. The issue was whether he had suffered lasting brain trauma.

Several witnesses had said Doty sometimes dropped infants into their cribs. One girl's head reportedly bounced against the crib's backboard.

The Esterhuizens said their son sometimes stared into space or had inappropriate eye movements, evidence of seizures.

No brain scan was taken and even the parents' medical experts acknowledged that no brain damage could be traced directly to the day care center.

One medical witness described the boy, now almost 4, as bright and verbal.

The parents contended that the boy sometimes held his arm strangely when he ran, but the defense took surveillance videos outside the family's home and at the beach that showed the boy playing normally.

Still, the jury awarded $250,000 for future medical costs plus $750,000 for future pain and suffering, based on a belief that the boy suffered brain trauma, juror Fick said.

There was some evidence of swelling, Fick said, and "there was a history of this lady and the way she was tossing babies around.''

In Yalow's statement, KinderCare laid the blame on Doty: "In this unfortunate incident, an employee acted in a manner that is contrary to everything we stand for.''

But the jury faulted center director Bailey for not heeding repeated warnings that Doty was mishandling children, Fick said.

The jury also wondered why KinderCare did not install cameras so supervisors could monitor classrooms.

With 1,700 schools in 38 states, KinderCare grossed $1.5 billion a year, Fisk said. "Take a little of that and install cameras.''

As of now, KinderCare and a parent corporation called Knowledge Learning have 16 centers in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Only one is being monitored because of a serious violation or series of smaller violations.

Jury awards $3 million to Pinellas boy whose leg was broken in KinderCare day care center 08/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:05am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Offense gets some juggling

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The night after scoring six runs to emerge from what had been a historically fallow offensive stretch seemed like an odd time to make changes to the lineup, but that was exactly what the Rays did for Wednesday's late game against the Blue Jays.

    Associated Press
  2. Dunedin man accused of possessing child pornography

    Crime

    DUNEDIN — A 57-year-old man was arrested Wednesday, accused of intentionally downloading child pornography, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Richard Beal Anger, 57, of Dunedin faces 11 counts of possession of child pornography. [Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Pence cuts short Latin America trip and pressures Chile to sever all ties to North Korea

    Politics

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Vice President Mike Pence is cutting short his Latin America trip by one day to return to Washington for a strategy meeting Friday at Camp David with President Donald Trump and the national security team.

    Vice President Mike Pence urged Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to take a tougher stand against North Korea on Wednesday in Santiago, Chile.
  4. Big Ben backlash: Plan to silence beloved bell under review

    World

    LONDON — British Parliament officials said Wednesday they will review plans to silence Big Ben during four years of repairs after senior politicians criticized the lengthy muting of the beloved bell.

  5. UF's move to deny white nationalist Richard Spencer a venue sets up a First Amendment court fight

    College

    In denying a notorious white nationalist his request to speak on campus, the University of Florida has brought a thorny legal battle to Gainesville in the name of keeping its students safe.

    Legal experts say the University of Florida will have an uphill battle in court proving that fears of violence from an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer will override the First Amendment. "There's a fine line between inciting lawlessness and engendering a situation where lawlessness arises," said Peter Lake, higher education law professor at Stetson University College of Law. [Getting Images]