Church Cleared on Baby’s Suspicious Death

     (CN) – A church is not responsible for the death of a 4-month-old boy under the care of a babysitter recommended by the associate pastor, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
     In January 2010, nearly four months after the birth of Yonghong Cheng and Hongjun “June” Niu’s son Matthew, Niu got a job and needed a babysitter.
     Niu first went to Joy Wegener, a women she knew from the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Muncie, but Wegener declined and gave Niu the number of Tina Byrd, another churchgoer who might be available.
     It was well known among members of the church, however, that a baby died in Byrd’s care just two months earlier. A coroner ruled that child’s death to be a case of SUID (Sudden Unexpected Infant Death), and police never charged Byrd after questioning her.
     After Niu called Byrd and left her a message, the new mother went over to Wegener’s home, seeing if she would reconsider.
     The friend would not, however, and instead called associate pastor Kristofer Holroyd for a recommendation. Holroyd said, “Tina is taking babies,” but he later testified that he did not think he was recommending Byrd as a babysitter.
     Two weeks after Byrd started babysitting Matthew, she left the house while he was sleeping on his side in his crib. Byrd went to pick up her daughter and run another errand, and she expected her other daughter to be home soon. Byrd returned to find that Matthew had died.
     When Niu came to pick the child up, Byrd’s son told her, “Your baby died.”
     Byrd pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for initially lying to the police about her whereabouts and the baby’s positioning for his nap.
     Westminster immediately issued a press release, which mentioned the baby’s name and erroneously stated that his parents were part of a Chinese congregation that met at the church, as opposed to attendees of the main church services.
     Like the other baby who died in Byrd’s care, Matthew’s death was determined to be SUID, cause undetermined.
     Cheng and Niu sued the church, Byrd and Holroyd for wrongful death, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Holroyd was later dismissed as a defendant, and a Delaware County judge eventually granted Westminster summary judgment only on the emotional distress claim.
     The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week that the entire case against the church should be dismissed.
     “Westminster argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment on the wrongful death claim because it did not owe a duty to the Chengs as a matter of law. We agree,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for a three-person panel.
     Ultimately, the court found no “special relationship” between the parties.
     “June received the information about Byrd through an intermediary, Wegener, rather than directly and confidentially from Holroyd,” the ruling states.
     “We also find that when the church issued a press release about the death that included the family and child’s names, there was no invasion of privacy because the church did not intrude upon the family’s physical seclusion or profit off the family’s name, and no intentional infliction of emotional distress because the conduct did not rise to the level of outrageous,” Vaidik wrote.

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