Last year, after the state’s child-protection agencies left 4-year-old Jadiel Velasquez in the care of his father, despite overwhelming evidence of abuse, a judge delivered the largest verdict ever recorded in a child abuse case, personal injury attorneys in New Jersey report. The original verdict against the Division of Youth and Family Services came out $166 million. But now, the Superior Court is lowering the record verdict, to more accurately reflect blame against all of the parties involved.
Jadiel was hospitalized in early 2009, and presented serious signs of abuse. DYFS got involved at that time, and caseworker Felix Umetiti was tasked with assessing the boy’s home life and potential danger. After some investigation, Umetiti determined that the child should be sent back to live with his father, and did not alert law enforcement officials of the threat to the child’s wellbeing.
When Jadiel was hospitalized a few months later, after Velesquez beat him severely, he was left blind, unable to walk or talk, and must be fed through a tube in his stomach. The boy suffers daily seizures and has to have full-time care. His maternal grandmother and primary care person, Neomi Escobar, sued DYFS for returning her grandson to his abusive father, and for failing to take action to prevent further abuse. Although originally, DYFS was charged with paying the $166 million for Jadiel’s ongoing intensive care and his and his grandmother’s pain and suffering, Essex County Superior Court Judge James Rothschild Jr amended the amount to $102 million, a figure that he stated more accurately reflects the appropriation of blame in Jadiel’s mistreatment.
In his decision, Judge Rothschild assigned the blame to four involved parties—25 percent to Velesquez, and 25 percent each to the three negligent caseworkers at DYFS, including Umetiti. The original decision had not assigned any blame to Velesquez, but, as Rothschild wrote, the boy’s father “had the last clear chance to keep Jadiel safe…[and] everything he did to harm Jadiel was done after the Division acted.” Although the DYFS agents should have done more to protect the child, Velesquez is to blame for the permanent damage he caused.
It is unclear whether Rothschild actually has judicial authority to change the apportionment of liability, personal injury lawyers in New Jersey say, but in doing so, he did remove some of the financial penalties assessed to the DYFS. Relying on the previous court case Pellicer ex. Rel Pellicer v. St. Barnabas Hospital, from 2009, where a child was similarly abused and received $50 million in nonpecuniary damages, the judge did not change the $57.7 million assessed for pain and suffering. He did reduce the award for the boy’s future medical expenses, which he said should be based on the highest possible figure supported by the evidence of the case, lowering the amount to $75.9 million.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our personal injury and family lawyers work together to prevent child abuse and prosecute personal injury lawsuits to procure restitution for a child’s suffering, pain, medical bills, and any other trauma. If you have questions regarding a personal injury case, contact an HCK attorney today.