$15M awarded after little one dies in Alabama DHR custody

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) – A Montgomery County jury has awarded $15 million in damages for the wrongful death of a child who was in the custody of the Alabama Department of Human Resources at the time of his death in 2013.

The Montgomery County Circuit Court jury deliberated for over an hour on Aug. 5 before returning the unanimous verdict, finding that the DHR case worker and a foster caregiver were responsible for the 9-year-old child’s death. The child’s name was not released for privacy reasons.

Attorneys Andrew Moak of Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys, PC, and Brett Turnbull and Robert LeMoine of Turnbull, Holcomb & LeMoine, PC collaborated to prepare the case and take it to trial.

“This was an especially devastating case of reckless mismanagement by DHR, and this verdict proves that our judicial system won’t be a bystander of this severe injustice,” states Alexander Shunnarah, Founder and CEO of Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys. “We are proud of Andrew Moak for his unwavering dedication to this case over the last seven years as he fought for justice for the innocent life of a nine-year-old that was lost far too soon.”

The child had sickle cell anemia when he was taken into DHR custody, according to Shunnarah’s office. Sickle cell anemia is a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness, and the child had numerous care requirements to ensure his condition was properly monitored and managed for complications.

The plaintiff claimed that the DHR case worker’s and foster caregiver’s reckless mismanagement of the child’s specific symptoms and complaints led to the child suffering a sickle cell anemia attack. The child died of complications of the sickle cell crisis at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham in May 2013.

“We worked for seven years to bring this case to trial,” states Moak. “When DHR chooses to take a child into its custody, whatever its reason may be, the child does not have a choice in the matter. This child died because adults who took responsibility for his life disregarded their rules and their training and unnecessarily allowed him to slip into a medical crisis that he did not survive. They knew this little boy had a dangerous disease and knew what could happen to him if they ignored its symptoms, but they refused medical care until it was too late.”

“This is a landmark case in which the jury clearly sent the message that we have the right to expect more from an agency with as much power as DHR in terms of taking its own rules more seriously to ensure that clear medical instructions are followed, and children do not die needlessly,” said Turnbull.

“This child’s death was completely preventable, and hopefully this verdict will cause DHR to re-examine its practices. This should not happen to anyone, and especially not to a child,” Turnbull added.

When reached, a spokesperson for Alabama’s DHR said the department did not have a comment.

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