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On the Docket - Cases & Our Blog

The Right for Abuse Victims to Sue Mandatory Reporters

As Washington DSHS and CPS abuse lawyers, we seek justice for our clients who have suffered terrible abuse and neglect as the result of the failure or negligence of DSHS and/or CPS. Tragically, Tyler DeLeon was was such a victim.

The Tyler DeLeon Case – The Facts

Tyler DeLeon died on his seventh birthday of dehydration and starvation – a result of neglect and abuse by his adoptive mother, Carole DeLeon.   His death came despite investigations by Child Protective Services (CPS) of his home.  At the time of Tyler’s death he weighed only 28 pounds.

Tyler’s adopted siblings and the personal representatives of his estate brought claims for wrongful death and survival actions against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), individual employees of DSHS, and several doctors who had treated or who had seen Tyler. The doctors alleged that they were immune from suit for several reasons, one of which was that Washington’s mandatory child abuse reporter did not authorize individuals to bring a private claim under the statute.

The Duties of Mandatory Reporters

Under Washington law, those in certain professions, including medicine and education, must report suspected cases of child abuse to DSHS or the appropriate law enforcement agency.  The failure to timely make such a report may constitute a gross misdemeanor.

The Court’s Decision

While the case involved a number of legal questions, a central question of the case concerned whether a physician could be liable to a person whom he or she suspected of being abused, even if the physician did not actually treat the child.  Comparing a physician to a teacher, the court held stated that physicians have enough contact with children that they should be able to have a reasonable basis to suspect that child abuse had occurred without necessarily treating the child.

After reaching this conclusion the court considered whether Washington’s mandatory child abuse reporting statute conferred a private right of action on behalf of those who have been harmed by a mandatory reporter failing to fulfill the statutory reporting requirements. The court noted that the no such right was provided in the statute, but that the absence of of such right was not determinative.

Following a discussion about the legislative intent of the statute, the court found that Washington’s mandatory child abuse reporting statute created an implied cause of action for those harmed against non-complying mandatory reporters.

Our View

The facts of the DeLeon case were horrific.  We cannot fathom how anyone could knowingly starve a child to death, or to inflict the heinous abuse that was suffered by Tyler.

Tyler’s life was cut short through no fault of his own.  While his death was tragic, Tyler’s legacy likely will be this case – that mandatory reporters in Washington can be subject to civil suit if they fail to timely report suspected child abuse.

With this potential liability, we hope that all mandatory reporters will think twice about their legal obligations.  We also hope that this will lead to more cases of child abuse being discovered sooner.  Hopefully, no one else will have to suffer the way Tyler suffered.


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