Mooresville daycare suit settled for $1 million

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comDecember 13, 2013 

A Catawba County couple received a $1 million settlement from a Mooresville daycare after their infant son stopped breathing and suffered brain damage, court records show.

Richard Washam and JoBina Sawyer’s son was 4 months old on June 26, 2012, when a worker at J-Bear Child Development in Mooresville’s Lakeside Business Park placed the infant on his stomach for “tummy time,” according to the lawsuit.

About two minutes later, a worker noticed the infant wasn’t breathing, according to the suit filed in Iredell County Superior Court in February. At some point, a J-Bear employee began performing CPR on the baby, and Iredell County EMS was called.

EMS paramedic Jason Little immediately noticed the infant had vomited and that vomit had blocked his airway, according to the suit. The infant wasn’t breathing when EMS arrived, the lawsuit says, but began breathing again after the paramedic cleared his airway.

“As a result of prolonged period of time without oxygen, (the infant) sustained a severe anoxic brain injury,” the lawsuit says. Anoxia means an absence of oxygen.

The suit contends the daycare failed to properly monitor the baby and that the workers should have known his airway was blocked with vomit.

The family sued Parakeet LLC, which owns and operates J-Bear Child Development. Parakeet’s address on its incorporation records is the same as the daycare’s address on Knob Hill Road, off Interstate 77 Exit 36 in Mooresville.

Judge W. David Lee approved the settlement on Oct. 1. Lee ruled that the family’s lawyers, Stephen Gugenheim of Raleigh and Michael Levine of Mooresville, receive 28 percent of the settlement amount, which equals $280,000. The judge sealed further details of the settlement.

The family’s settlement money was placed in a trust to pay for the boy’s daily living expenses, his education, vocational training, personal assistants and care providers, therapy and rehab services until he is 18, court records show.

“My son was a perfectly fine little boy, was taken to daycare and was disabled for the rest of his life,” JoBina Sawyer told the Observer. “No amount of money is going to make it right.”

Sawyer said she would like to say more but was bound by the settlement’s confidentiality stipulation.

Levine said he also was barred by terms of the settlement from discussing many details of the case, although he confirmed that $1 million “was the entire amount” covered by Parakeet’s insurance policy.

“I wish there had been more money to get, but there weren’t any more resources to get,” he said.

Levine praised paramedic Little. “I believe Jason Little did a remarkable job,” Levine said. “His response was great. He was Johnny-on-the-spot when he got there and didn’t miss a beat. You couldn’t ask for a better response from the EMTs.”

Parakeet and J-Bear officials didn’t respond to email and phone messages from the Observer.

Patrick Flanagan of the Charlotte law firm Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog, which defended the daycare, said Friday he couldn’t comment on the settlement because the terms are confidential.

Flanagan said his clients “adamantly deny liability” and that investigations by the Department of Social Services and the state found no wrongdoing by the daycare.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak

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