In late March 2018, a Cook County, Illinois jury returned a $45 million recovery in the case of a toddler who died after being negligently returned to his abusive mother's care.
The case, Estate of Lavandis Hudson vs. Lutheran Social Services Inc., centered on gross negligence in the foster care system. If proper procedures had been followed and appropriate care had been provided, Lavandis would most likely still be alive today.
Historic legal case
In 2011, two-year-old Lavandis Hudson was in the care of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), a private nonprofit company that was under contract with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). Lavandis was hospitalized in June of that year for injuries sustained from abuse committed by his biological mother, Marles Blackman. However, when Lavandis was released from the hospital, LSSI placed him back in Blackman's care.
When it made the decision to place Lavandis back with his biological mother, LSSI was aware of Blackman's past drug abuse, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and a history of violence. In addition to abusing Lavandis, Blackman had faced multiple battery and assault charges. She had even set her own brother, a double amputee, on fire. In spite of these known risks, LSSI made the absurd determination that Lavandis would be safe in his mother's care.
He was not. On July 21, 2011, Lavandis died due to injuries inflicted by his biological mother. An autopsy found that Lavandis had sustained fatal brain injuries from blunt-force trauma due to repeated blows to the head, along with signs of strangulation, cuts, bruises and bite marks.
Blackman was charged with first-degree murder in 2012, but we knew that responsibility for Lavandis' death did not lie with her alone. LSSI's negligence placed Lavandis in an unsafe situation. According to expert witnesses we retained as well as admissions made by LSSI's own employees, the company committed over 130 violations of DCFS violations. They had failed to provide therapy services, drug reviews and home visits, and they negligently returned Lavandis to Blackman's care despite her known history of violence.
The bigger issue
Tragically, Lavandis' case is far from unique. Many children in the social services system have been the victims of serious physical abuse, sexual abuse and violence due to the negligence of companies like LSSI. We have repeatedly fought against DCFS entering into contracts with these private companies, which provide wildly inconsistent and sometimes grossly negligent care.
"There are too many kids who are placed too quickly without enough thought," said attorney Jay Paul Deratany. In addition to Lavandis' case, we have represented several other victims of this broken system, including:
- A child who was sexually terrorized by an older boy with a known history of sexual offenses who was negligently placed in his home.
- A foster child who was injured by an unlicensed man who had been negligently allowed into the home by his foster mother.
- Two children who were sexually abused by an adopted sibling with a known history of inappropriate sexual behavior that the adoption agency failed to disclose to the parents.
Foster children are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We as a nation need to do a better job of taking care of them. Senseless deaths such as Lavandis Hudson's simply should not be happening in 21st-century America. It's time that we do the hard work needed to reform the system and protect these children from harm now and in the future.