The Seattle Times announced on Friday that Washington state officials have agreed to pay a settlement of $367,500 to a 23-year-old woman who filed a lawsuit against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) alleging that the agency ignored over a decade of reported child abuse.
According to court documents and news reports, the lawsuit claims that DSHS received complaints about the girl’s mother over a period of 11 years, but failed to act on the reports of child abuse until the mother was finally arrested for threatening the girl with a steak knife.
To make matters worse, court documents show that the state later granted the mother permission to regain custody of the daughter, 23-year-old Raquel Granath, after the aforementioned arrest.
Details of Child Abuse Reports to DSHS
The Seattle Times report states that DSHS was first alerted about the mother in 1991, allegedly by a group of employees who worked at a photography studio. According to court documents, the employees witnessed the mother physically abuse the daughter while they were getting family photos taken at the studio.
Over time, teachers and other people associated with the girl continued to notice signs of child abuse, including welts and scratches on the girl’s body. The lawsuit claims that DSHS caseworkers sent the mother educational information about counseling and parenting classes but otherwise did not intervene.
Then on Christmas in 2002 – about 11 years after the first reports of abuse to DSHS in 1991 – the mother was arrested after she allegedly sat on the young girl’s chest and threatened her with a steak knife. The mother pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault for the incident, and the girl was finally removed from the home.
At that point, the lawsuit claims that Granath had suffered “substantially and tremendous damage had been done to her long-term mental health.”
Girl is Returned to her Abusive Mother
After that, the girl spent multiple years living with extended family members and being placed in foster care before the state eventually returned her to the abusive mother in 2005. Shortly after that, the daughter reportedly ran away from home to escape her mother.
In December of 2011, Granath filed a civil lawsuit against DSHS claiming that the state had violated her rights by failing to protect her from more than a decade of child abuse by her mother. According to the terms of the settlement, DSHS will pay the $367,500 but will not admit fault for the years of abuse Granath endured.
From a legal perspective, it is presumable that because the girl was a minor when the alleged child abuse occurred, the standard three-year statute of limitations would not have begun until she reached her 18th birthday. This would explain why she was able to bring a civil action against DSHS even though the abuse allegedly occurred so many years ago.
Although Washington state law dictates that there are special exemptions for minors when it comes to the statute of limitations, it is always best for victims who feel they may have a claim to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. This can ensure that evidence is preserved properly and that witnesses can be located and questioned in a reasonable amount of time. Delaying this process can only increase the chances of a claim being devalued or compromised altogether, which can leave victims with no options as far as compensation for their physical and emotional injuries.
DSHS is often the target of lawsuits that involve a child who was abused, on the premise that the state-funded agency is obligated to protect children from physical and emotional abuse whenever it is alerted of potential warning signs. Recently, it was also announced that DSHS was the target of a similar lawsuit involving a couple who starved and beat their children over a period of nearly a decade. In that particular lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking approximately $54 million in damages.