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"Parade of Errors" Fails Plaintiff in 15 Year Civil Court Battle Over a Foster Child's Suffocation

Posted on in Personal Injury

In 2006, Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. secured $12 million in damages for three children abused in a foster home in a settlement with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a personal injury lawyer with experience in this area, it is mind boggling that foster children can be victimized on a serial basis for years without a place to turn to for justice. The Osborn case absolutely represents a failure by the Courts to justly compensate Louise Osborn’s estate for her wrongful death.

On April 10, 1992, Louise and Sean Osborn were taken into Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) custody after their parents were incarcerated for writing bad checks. They were placed with foster parents Matt and Sarah Augsburger, who had three young children of their own (Pantagraph, Brady-Lunney 6/29).

On July 29, 1993 Sarah Augsburger “told Police she fell asleep downstairs and Louise likely crawled into the cupboard in an upstairs closet. She said when she checked on the child more than two hours later, she found Louise unresponsive on the floor near the cabinet.” Louise was rushed to the hospital with a 105 degree fever and died shortly thereafter. She was three years old.

Over a year later, the DCFS Office of Inspector General investigated a complaint against the Child Welfare Agency and issued a report that was highly critical of Youth Services. The most damaging find was “that Youth Services staff was instructed to handle allegations of abuse within the agency, rather than reporting them to the state as required by law.”

In May, the Illinois court of claims decision that DCFS was not liable for Louise’s death reversed the previous $640,000 jury award in the original 1998 trial and the 2001 retrial, and exhausted all avenues for appeal for the attorney’s representing Louise’s estate. Proceeds from the lawsuit would have gone to her brother, Sean Osborn.

Now, attorney Doug Koth is “calling on Illinois lawmakers to correct what he considers a series of mistakes by Illinois courts in the Osborn case that effectively extends parental immunity to foster parents and protects them from lawsuits involving the supervision of children placed in their care.”

As a result of this unfortunate ruling, the accountability of both foster care agencies and foster parents is now virtually eliminated, which inhibits incentive mechanisms from encouraging both parties to take the necessary level of care in placing children in foster homes and caring for them once they are there. This disappointing verdict paves the way for increased carelessness in foster care and will likely lead to “a higher prevalence of abused and neglected foster children.”

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