Child abuse is taken very seriously under New York law. In fact, certain professionals are required to report suspected cases of child abuse or maltreatment. The law grants qualified immunity to a professional making reports of suspected child abuse. However, a recent New York lawsuit alleged that a false report about the plaintiff’s medical condition led to the removal of her two children from her custody. This case highlights the New York child custody implications of the mandatory reporting statute.
The plaintiff was brought to the emergency room by New York City police officers. She was in emotional turmoil after being sexually assaulted on the subway that morning. Medical professionals in the emergency room allegedly inaccurately diagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and manic depression personality disorder and advised New York City Child Protective Services of the diagnosis.
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging that the medical professionals improperly disclosed her medical diagnosis to CPS and caused the authorities to remove the plaintiff’s two sons, aged four and nine, from her care and custody and place them in foster care. The lawsuit named the hospital and her doctor as defendants (Parra v. Beth Israel Med. Ctr., 2017 NY Slip Op 30782 – NY: Supreme Court 2017).
New York’s Social Services Law section 413 requires certain persons, including physicians, teachers, social workers, and counselors, to register a report whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is an abused or maltreated child. The law protects mandated reporters by providing them with immunity from civil liability, as long as the report of child abuse is made in good faith under Social Services Law section 419. However, the immunity is unavailable if the report is a result of willful misconduct or gross negligence.
The plaintiff argued that the immunity did not apply because the report was not made in good faith. First, she argued that her mental health diagnosis was incorrect, and it was made by a nurse as opposed to a practicing doctor. She also contended that the communications made to CPS disregarded procedures under New York’s Mental Health Law.
The court sided with the defendants and ruled that the plaintiff did not state a case for wrongful reporting of child abuse. The court noted that the mandatory reporting statute did not require conclusive proof, but only a reasonable suspicion. Moreover, the statute is intended to give mandated reporters the freedom to act and err on the side of protecting children. The court concluded that even if the defendants misdiagnosed the plaintiff’s condition and advised CPS of the misdiagnosis, there is no evidence of willful misconduct or gross negligence if the defendants discharged their duty to report an incident of suspected child abuse.
Any child abuse incident is taken very seriously by New York courts in considering custody awards and visitation rights. Attorney Ingrid Gherman has experience working with cases in which child abuse was an issue. If you need legal assistance, call her law office at (212) 941-0767 or fill out the online form.
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Court Overrules Gag Order Barring Discussion Child Custody Case, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, April 7, 2017
Emergency Transfer of Child in New York Custody Dispute Results in Judicial Ethics Charge, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, January 17, 2017
New York Courts Consider Questions of Jurisdiction in Paternity, Child Custody Proceedings, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, March 31, 2015