The state of Montana was ordered to pay $16.6 in damages to a 13-year-old girl after a judge ruled that the state did not properly look into abuse allegations against the girl’s father and his girlfriend, the Associated Press reported. When she was six months old, the girl suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her blind and caused developmental delays and seizures.
District Court Judge Elizabeth Best in Great Falls determined that the state was responsible for the injuries the girl suffered in 2009 after it was negligent in investigating the reports of abuse in December 2008. A jury ordered the state on November 17 to pay damages of $6.6 million for future care, $5 million for the loss of her course of life, $4 million for mental and emotional suffering, $713,000 for lost earnings and $336,000 for care in the past, the AP reported.
“This is an important moment for our client and represents a measure of justice for her,” Larry Anderson, one of the girl’s lawyers, said in a statement. “The jury’s verdict also recognizes the importance of properly investigating child abuse complaints.”
A Division of Child and Family Services caseworker did not properly look into whether the girl was safe with her father and his girlfriend after reports of abuse were made, the complaint against the state said. Additionally, the complaint said that by failing to take the girl from her father and the girlfriend in December, the child was forced to suffer additional abuse that could have been prevented, according to the AP.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Alicia Jo Hocter, the girlfriend of the victim’s father, was sentenced in July 2010 to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole after being found guilty of aggravated assault and criminal endangerment.
Hocter held the infant around the waist and swung her against the edge of a wooden crib two or three times, then tossed the child into the crib, left the room and closed the door, prosecutors said at the time.
The girl attends a boarding school for blind and deaf people.
When asked if the Department of Public Health and Human Services planned to appeal the award, spokesperson Jon Ebelt said Wednesday that the agency was reviewing the court’s decision.
Agency Director Adam Meier seemed to suggest an appeal was possible.
“While the correctness of the court’s decision remains in dispute, the unspeakable nature of this crime is not,” Meier said Wednesday in a statement to the Great Falls Tribune. “Our hearts go out to the victim of this terrible crime, and the state is safer with the perpetrator incarcerated. This tragedy serves as a reminder of what our agency, our partners, and in particular our child welfare professionals do each and every day to protect children.”
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