Multiple Defendants in Child-Care Death
OMAHA (CN) - Care.com, a child-care referral service, recommended an abusive nanny who killed a couple's baby, the couple claim in court.
Christopher and Ashley Bell sued Care.com and Sarah Cullen, in Douglas County Court.
Also sued are Cullen's previous employers, Grow With Me Childcare and Preschool and its owner and director Jennifer Schmaderer, and La Petite Academy and its acting director Lisa Hampson,
A jury in March convicted Cullen of felony child abuse resulting in death, the Bells say in the complaint.
The Bells say they found Care.com online. "Defendant Care.com is one of the world's largest online marketplaces for finding and managing family care. Defendant Care.com has 10.7 million users worldwide and is available in sixteen countries," according to the lawsuit.
The Bells say Care.com made numerous, false representations about the thoroughness with which they vetted nannies. From 30 applicants, they chose Cullen to care for their son, Cash, who was born on Oct. 16, 2012.
The complaint states: "Defendant Care.com made numerous representations to Chris and Ashley Bell regarding their background checks, including but not limited to:
"a. provide the criminal records of a prospective nanny;
"b. uncover potential warning signs about candidates; and
"c. help in hiring decisions.
"At the time Defendant Care.com performed the background check on defendant Cullen, defendant Cullen had a criminal conviction.
"However, the background check defendant Care.com performed on defendant Cullen, pursuant to Chris and Ashley Bell's request, indicated that, in regard to its criminal case search, 'no cases [were] found.'
"As defendant Cullen's background check revealed no prior criminal records, Chris and Ashley Bell called defendant Cullen to offer her a position as Cash's nanny.
"On approximately December 8, 2012, defendant Cullen accepted her employment as Cash's nanny."
On Feb. 28, 2013, Cullen called Ashley Bell at work and told her that Cash was "not breathing right," the complaint states.
Doctors told the Bells that Cash "had sustained severe head trauma which included multiple skull fractures and bleeding on the brain," according to the complaint.
"These injuries indicated that Cash was either forcefully hit in the head or hit in the head with something hard.
"The doctors also told Chris and Ashley Bell that Cash had hemorrhaging consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome, indicating that Cash was either shaken or slammed."
The Bells say their baby "was in extreme" pain from Feb. 28 until March 5, when he died.
The complaint states: "The first time the police questioned defendant Cullen about Cash's injuries, she stated that 'nothing happened.' Defendant Cullen explicitly stated that she did not drop Cash and, further, that Cash did not fall in any way.
"Defendant Cullen then indicated that Cash's head hit the door when she was taking him out the back door.
"Later on, defendant Cullen stated that Cash had fallen out of his swing the morning of February 28, 2012.
"Finally, defendant Cullen changed her story yet again and stated that Cash had not fallen out of his swing on February 28, 2012, but, instead, that she dropped him after she slipped when walking down the stairs.
"It was eventually determined that defendant Cullen was likely responsible for Cash's injuries and on March 7, 2013 defendant Cullen was arrested and charged with child abuse resulting in death.
On March 11, 2014, a jury unanimously found defendant guilty of the charge of child abuse resulting in death, a Class IB felony."
The Bells claim that Cullen had worked at defendant La Petite Academy for a year, from December 2006 to December 2007. During that time, they claim, a co-worker say Cullen "physically abuse children on twelve occasions." They claim Hampson knew of this, but failed to report it to law enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Bells claim that Cullen worked at defendant Grow With Me from March through September 2012. There, they say, three co-workers say Cullen "abuse children on many occasions." Among these, they claim, are that "on approximately thirty or forty occasions, starting in approximately July 2012, defendant Cullen threw various infants/toddlers across the room into hard surfaces so forcefully that the infants/toddlers would land on their bottoms and hit their heads on the hard surfaces."
They claim that Cullen also "shoved a 14-month-old baby's shoe into his mouth because he was screaming while she was changing his diaper. When defendant Cullen finished changing this child's diaper he had blood running from his lip and down his chin."
They claim that the co-workers repeatedly informed defendant Schmaderer of the abuse, but she failed to report it to police or to Health and Human Services.
The Bells seek punitive damages for misrepresentation, negligence and wrongful death. They are represented by Mark Laughlin with Fraser & Stryker of Omaha.