December 14, 2023

Jacksonville Jury Awards $13.5 Million in Negligent Adoption Case

Jacksonville, FL – The adoptive parents of a young boy with special needs have been awarded $13.5 million in damages against Jewish Family and Community Services, Inc. (JFCS) for negligently misrepresenting and failing to disclose material facts related to his history during the adoption process. The jury found that JFCS acted with wanton and willful disregard for the human rights and safety of the family and adoptive child.

Justin Grosz, a partner with Justice for Kids, a division of Kelley Kronenberg PA, represented the family in this case. The trial began on December 4, 2023, and ended on December 12, 2023, in Jacksonville.

Despite knowledge of the young boy’s significant mental health diagnoses and behavioral issues, stemming from a history of abuse and neglect from his biological mother and others, JFCS did not disclose the child’s true diagnoses, nor the fact that had he had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility pursuant to Florida’s Baker Act, where physicians found him to be a danger to himself and others. His significant lifelong mental health disorders carried the risk of extreme physical and sexually reactive behavior which JFCS knew. They were concerned enough to create a Safety Contract, at his last foster placement, which required that he never be placed in a room with younger children. Implying his only diagnosis had been Autism and ADHD, JFCS failed to disclose his true diagnoses, the Baker Act commitment, and the Safety Contract, despite knowledge that the adoptive parents had three younger daughters (all under five) and were not prepared to meet the minor’s extraordinary needs.  Following the adoption, the minor’s behaviors escalated, including self-harm, threats to harm the adoptive father, fire-starting, and the sexual abuse of one of the daughters, requiring treatment at a residential facility specializing in reactive disorders, where his treaters have determined it is no longer safe for him to live with his sisters or adoptive parents, and that he will need constant supervision to ensure his safety and the safety of those around him. Committed to their son, S.L. and H.L. have embarked on a relentless and exhausting journey to obtain the treatment and care I.L. deserves while trying to protect their daughters and ensure the safety of their family.

I.L. had been removed from the care of his biological mother in January 2016 when he was six years old following a DCF abuse hotline report of prolonged neglect and substance abuse. JFCS, a private, non-governmental Florida corporation operating in Duval County, Fla., was assigned to I.L. for case management services.

Upon entering foster care, I.L. was initially placed in a specialized therapeutic foster home with a trained parent but was quickly removed from the home when it became apparent that he needed one-on-one supervision. Within three months he was psychiatrically hospitalized for serious behavioral and emotional disturbances that included frequent running away, physical aggression, self-harm and property destruction. During this hospitalization he was diagnosed with several conditions, including Reactive Attachment Disorder and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

In June 2016, while in foster care, I.L. also began to exhibit sexually reactive behaviors toward other children which led to the creation of the Safety Contract.

As the lawsuit alleged, at the time that JFCS placed I.L. in H.L. and S.L.’s home for purposes of adoption, in April 2017, JFCS knew I.L.’s prior diagnoses, involuntary hospitalization and need for the Safety Contract, but failed to disclose them. His history of abuse, abandonment, neglect and trauma, created extraordinary needs and risks of which the adoptive parents were informed.

Due to his serious and significant developmental, intellectual, mental health, behavioral, and emotional challenges, as well as his sexual exposure and reactivity, I.L. has required specialized services, monitoring and therapeutic placement, as well as constant adult supervision.  The emotional toll on the adoptive parents has been devastating, and is something they will continue to grapple with for the rest of their lives as they are committed to providing the best care they can to all of their children.

“H.L. and S.L. are an inspiring testament to the meaning of family and commitment in the face of extreme adversity.  Their ability to navigate such conflicting waters – protecting their daughters and themselves from their son while relentlessly pursuing care and treatment and endeavoring to maintain a sense of family unity in the hope of healing – has been remarkable,” said Grosz. “An adoption agency must never needlessly endanger the lives and safety of children and families by failing to fully disclose information it is legally required to disclose.”

This case was filed in Duval County Circuit Court and the judge was the Honorable Robert M. Dees.