Five-year-old Anyah Raven Glossinger was legally blind and had low-functioning autism. On January 23, 2008, she was found underwater in a mineral pool where she was taking therapy. She died the next day and investigators ruled her death accidental. A jury, however, just ruled that the children’s center was responsible and awarded her father $400,000 in damages.
She lived in Cathedral City, California with her mother, Emily Wereschagin. After her lessons in a special education kindergarten class at a local school, Anyah participated in the “Little Bridges” after-school program. As part of the program, Anyah took part in hydrotherapy, a common activity and exercise for people with autism.
In July of that year, Anyah’s father, Michael Glossinger, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against practically everyone connected to Anyah’s death, including the local school district, three workers at the Little Bridges program and the foundation that operated the program. According to his suit, everyone involved knew Anyah was blind and autistic, yet failed to give her a life vest and the proper supervision, and so she drowned. Recently, a jury agreed and awarded Glossinger $400K to compensate for his past and future loss of Anyah’s companionship.
As California attorney Jon Mitchell Jackson explains, “Anyah’s father was likely able to introduce evidence at trial showing the loss he experienced up to the trial date without having Anyah in his life. The missed meals, playtimes and birthdays. Everyday experiences that would put a smile on any parent’s face and a song in their hearts. He also likely introduced evidence of reasonably anticipated future harm (loss of future companionship) by sharing with the jury the time he would have spent with Anyah had it not been for her untimely and tragic death. His future Thanksgivings will not include her presence and the beautiful smile of his little girl.”
Absence Doesn’t Matter
According to Glossinger’s own testimony, he lived in Mill Valley, California, about 500 miles from Anyah and her mother. He didn’t visit her very often, either. He testified, however, that shortly before Anyah’s death, he and Wereschagin agreed on and made arrangements for him to come and visit Anyah.
During the trial, defense attorneys questioned both parents about their parenting and custody arrangements, perhaps in an effort to make the jury believe that Glossinger’s suit was a more about a “money grab” than vindicating the death of his child. If indeed that was a defense strategy, it didn’t work – the jury saw a father who lost a daughter. Estranged as he may have been, Anyah was still Glossinger’s child, and he had every right to sue for her wrongful death.
Glossinger’s motive aside, the jury’s verdict should put childcare workers on notice, or at least remind them of, their duties to protect and safeguard those who are left in their care. Whether they’re special needs children or not, facilities and programs for after-school activities have the legal responsibility to provide safe physical surroundings, as well as adequate adult supervision. Programs such as Little Bridges that cater to special needs individuals and likely receive state and/or federal funding usually have stricter rules to follow, such as licensing and training for workers and facilities.
Parents Take Heed, Too
“While filing suit for monetary damages will never make the grieving family whole again,” explains Simon Johnson of the Ohio-based Simon W. Johnson Law Office, “it is the only remedy available at law that can create some closure and finality to their tragedy.” And, while it may sound naive to some, a goal of any wrongful death suit is to make sure the same tragic mistakes don’t happen again – either by the same person or company or others who perform the same services.
In Anyah’s case, California’s Department of Social Services stepped in a few months after Anyah’s death and shut down Little Bridges. There’ll be no more victims of neglect there. Glossinger’s suit takes things a step farther and, hopefully, childcare programs in California and elsewhere are taking steps to make sure a similar tragedy doesn’t happen with them.
Parents need to take steps, too, to prevent the unthinkable from happening to their children. “To be safe, parents should always assume the worst when entrusting their child’s safety to others,” advises Mr. Jackson. In pools and other swimming situations, make sure the facility has the proper number of trained lifeguards and safety devices (locked fences) available and in place. In other activities, make sure people are correctly trained and equipment is properly maintained. How do you do this? You ask questions and even more important, you make sure you get answers.”
As a parent whose child participates in any sort of after-school activity, when was the last time you asked yourself, “Is my child safe?” Take it upon yourself to:
- Talk to other parents, friends, neighbors and staff at your child’s school about the program, especially anything good or bad they may know about it
- Visit the program or facility in person and speak with the people running it. Ask about their backgrounds, experience and training
- Ask if program employees have undergone background checks
- Check with your state and local social services agencies and local school boards to make sure programs, facilities and workers are properly licensed and if any complaints have been filed against them
- Drop in unexpectedly from time to time to see how your child is being treated and supervised during the program. Better yet, volunteer some of your time and see how day-to-day operations really work
There’s no information about whether or not Anyah’s parents did any of these things, and of course, there’s no guarantee the tragedy could have been avoided even if they had. We owe it to our children, though, to do what we can to avoid tragedies like Anyah’s and to hold people accountable when the unimaginable happens.
By: Dave Baarlaer, Lawyers.com
At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury. Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a childcare negligence or injury, a wrongful death claim or a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com