Duty – Social Service Agency Had Duty to Warn Foster Parents of Child’s History of Dangerous Behavior

Aug 15, 2018

In a tragic case involving the death of a foster parent, the Appellate Division held that a private social service agency owed a duty to plaintiffs to exercise reasonable care in placing the foster child in their home and to reasonably disclose his background so as to make an informed decision as to whether to accept him.  The court further held that whether the murder was a proximate cause of the social service’s negligence was a jury issue and the child’s own criminal actions was not a superseding intervening cause which would relieve defendant of liability.  Broach-Butts, et al. v. Therapeutic Alternatives Inc., et al., - N.J. Super. – (App. Div. 2018).

Defendant, Therapeutic Alternatives Inc., is a private social service agency.  They placed a child, D.M., with the plaintiff, Wanda Broach-Butts, and her late husband, Theotis Butts. 

Tragically, D.M. returned to plaintiffs’ home fifteen months after leaving and killed Theotis.  The trial court dismissed Therapeutic Alternatives on summary judgment and the Appellate Division reversed.  The Appellate Division held that Therapeutic Alternatives had a duty to warn the plaintiffs of D.M.’s violent history and to allow them to make an informed decision as to whether to allow him into their home.  D.M. had murdered his mother and threatened several people with bodily harm prior to being placed in the home.

The court held that whether the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of injury to the plaintiff was a jury question and that the murder was a superseding intervening cause that relieved defendant of liability.