December 12, 2023

Jury Awards $15 Million to Brain Damaged 8-Year-Old Child in Damages Case Against DCF for Negligent Investigation

Daytona Beach, FL – In one of the largest jury awards in Florida history of its kind, a young girl has been awarded a $15 million verdict against the Florida Department of Children & Families (”DCF”) for negligently investigating abuse reports that her mother had abused drugs endangering the child.  The eight-year-old girl who is referred to as H.H., was tortured and suffered permanent traumatic brain injury and quadriplegia from repeated episodes of abusive head trauma and is now completely dependent on others for all aspects of her daily functioning.  

Stacie Schmerling and Lisa Elliott, attorneys with the Justice for Kids Division of Kelley Kronenberg, represented H.H., by and through her permanent guardian Michele Mitchell in this lawsuit. 

In May 2017, DCF received a report through the Abuse Hotline alleging that there was concern for H.H., who was eighteen months old at the time, and her brother. Those concerns included drug activity in the home and poor living conditions due to drug activity in the home. The stepfather, who lived in the home and was a caregiver to H.H., also had a significant and dangerous criminal history that showed a pattern of impulsivity and violence. 

In June 2017, an additional abuse report was made to the Abuse Hotline regarding ongoing concerns of drug activity in the home and lack of supervision of the children. However, investigators failed to investigate or take any action to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of H.H., who was being physically abused, neglected, and tortured by her drug-addicted mother and stepfather. 

In September 2017, H.H. was brought to the Emergency Room by her mother who claimed that she had difficulty waking the child that morning. H.H. suffered horrific injuries including traumatic brain injury with multiple areas of bleeding in and around her brain and retinal hemorrhages due to repeated episodes of abusive head trauma and shaking. She has been left with severe cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, severe posttraumatic epilepsy with ongoing epileptic spasms and epileptic encephalopathy, ineffective airway clearance/restrictive lung disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and thick sputum/excessive oral secretions/ineffective airway clearance. She requires a feeding tube and is unable to walk or talk.   

Today H.H., who was permanently injured, requires a life care plan including numerous medical specialists and multiple therapies such as speech/feeding, occupational, and physical therapy. She just turned eight years old and will require 24/7 care for the rest of her life. 

Attorney Schmerling said, “Today’s record jury verdict speaks to the sheer magnitude and severity of eight-year-old H.H.’s injuries that she sustained more than six years ago. Our fight is to ensure that she will be able to live at home with her family and have the care, dignity and resources that she deserves for the rest of her life. Now that the jury has spoken, we are hopeful that DCF and Florida’s leaders will respect the jury’s decision and now fight with us to help H.H.” 

This case was filed in Volusia County Circuit Court and the judge was the Honorable Dennis Craig.