Criminal Defense Attorneys Already Advertising COVID-19 Services
Florida Statute 827.03 Raises Questions
BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — The charge of “child endangerment” is a charge filed with frequency by law enforcement officers, DCFS agents and prosecutors across the State of Florida. It is traditionally reserved for parents, guardians or custodians who knowingly place a child in harm’s way. But there is growing concern among those who run childcare facilities, indoor play locations and even parents who send kids to these locations that the charge could be used against them if children get sick.
Multiple child-oriented facilities contacting BocaNewsNow.com over the past two days asked if we are aware of “blanket immunity” at this time from criminal charges or civil litigation if a child gets sick at their facility.
The answer: no.
We are not running the names of those inquiring — we do not want their questions to adversely affect their businesses.
Based on current Florida statutes (see 827.03, below) there is nothing preventing law enforcement officers from filing endangerment charges against an owner or staff member of a child care facility if the facility is determined to spread COVID-19, or even a parent if that parents knows there’s a problem. There is also nothing preventing civil attorneys from filing lawsuits to recoup damages — including medical expenses — if a child gets sick.
Whether charges would ever be filed is a separate issue, but there is nothing “on the books” in Florida protecting a facility or its management from criminal or civil COVID-19 litigation.
In fact, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw potentially opened the door to such charges when he stated that PBSO would consider filing charges against those who knowingly spread COVID-19.
A quick check of criminal defense attorney websites across Florida reveals a growing promotion of COVID-19 defense services.
Legal experts say it is not a stretch to believe that placing a child in a facility or location susceptible to the spread of COVID-19 could face legal issues: parents for not fully vetting the facility, and the facility itself for not taking due care to protect children from virus exposure.
To be clear: we are unaware of any charges being filed at this point, and whether a prosecutor would “go there” remains to be seen. But the possibility is notable.
Here is the Florida statute addressing child abuse. Note this language: “neglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that results in, or could reasonably be expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.
827.03 Abuse, aggravated abuse, and neglect of a child; penalties.—(1) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term:(a) “Aggravated child abuse” occurs when a person:1. Commits aggravated battery on a child;2. Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or3. Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.(b) “Child abuse” means:
1. Intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
2. An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
3. Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.
(c) “Maliciously” means wrongfully, intentionally, and without legal justification or excuse. Maliciousness may be established by circumstances from which one could conclude that a reasonable parent would not have engaged in the damaging acts toward the child for any valid reason and that the primary purpose of the acts was to cause the victim unjustifiable pain or injury.
(d) “Mental injury” means injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability of the child to function within the normal range of performance and behavior as supported by expert testimony.(e) “Neglect of a child” means:
1. A caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child; or
2. A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.
Except as otherwise provided in this section, neglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that results in, or could reasonably be expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.
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