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Are Babysitters Liable for Injuries?

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Published in negligence on March 15, 2020.

Babysitters give parents a much-needed reprieve from the stress of juggling childcare with daily life. While most babysitters are prepared to act responsibly, some untrained caregivers may act carelessly or ignorantly and contribute to a serious injury. If you rely on a professional or part-time babysitter during the workday or occasional night off, this is what you should know about legal responsibilities.

Babysitter Responsibilities

As with any area of civil law, individuals must conduct themselves in a reasonable manner to avoid liability in accident cases. In-car accident cases, this means following the rules of the road. In babysitting cases, this means watching over and providing reasonable safety measures for the children involved.

Liability cases involving babysitters and caretakers involve numerous factors. The courts will determine liability on a case-by-case basis. A babysitter may face legal responsibility for preventable and serious injuries or the death of a child under his or her watch.

Factors That May Contribute to Babysitter Liability

Here are some of the factors that may affect liability decisions in babysitting-related child injury cases:

  1. The reason for the injury. Babysitters are not liable for injuries that could have happened under anyone’s care, such as a skinned knee or a black eye from an outdoor fall. They are only responsible for providing a reasonably safe environment and for following all parental instructions – especially if the parent outlined instructions in writing.
  2. The age of the babysitter. Parents who allow young teenagers/adolescents to watch their children should expect a certain level of risk. An older babysitter, particularly one with previous childcare experience, may face a higher degree of responsibility.
  3. The instructions parents provide. A babysitter may not respond adequately to a known health concern if he or she has no prior knowledge (e.g., an asthma attack). However, a babysitter is responsible for adhering to all of the special directions a parent provides. However, there are limitations. If your child has needs that require any specialized medical knowledge hiring a person without such knowledge would be a risk that the parent would assume.
  4. The accepted responsibility of the babysitter. To determine the level of liability, the court will need to understand a babysitter’s role. Pay, a contract, and/or a verbal agreement may form the basis of legal responsibility. If, however, a parent assumed that a family member or friend would watch the child without setting specific parameters, the defendant may not have legally accepted the role of caregiver.
  5. The expected degree of supervision. Children require different levels of care depending on age, disabilities, or behavioral issues. Watching multiple children or watching children in a potentially dangerous environment (such as near a busy intersection) may also affect the appropriate level of supervision. Establishing a reasonable level of supervision will improve the parents’/plaintiffs’ ability to prove an element of negligence.

Babysitters verses Daycare

It is important to note that there is a very real distinction between babysitters and Daycare providers. Babysitters are generally individuals who hold no specialized training (aside from possibly CPR/First-aid) and are not regulated by any state or federal laws. Daycare providers are completely different. Daycare providers have generally licensed businesses that undergo both state and federal training for the care of one or more children. As such, Daycare providers are [in most cases] held to a higher standard of care than babysitters.

Examples of Caregiving Liability

Babysitters may not face liability for a child who falls down on the playground and breaks an arm. However, if the babysitter allowed a child to wander off unsupervised and the child drank some unsecured chemicals in a kitchen cabinet, on the other hand, the courts may find the babysitter responsible.

In Oklahoma in 2015, a professional daycare center took the kids in their care on a field trip to a local water park. The workers failed to apply reasonable amounts of sunscreen to protect the children, and two suffered from severe burns. The daycare center faced responsibility for the children’s injuries. The courts would likely view a babysitting case in the same way, because applying sunscreen is a reasonable expectation in outdoor caregiving settings.

Another case in 2015 involved a babysitter who was watching a five-month-old and a 15-month-old in Kentucky. The babysitter left the children to take a smoke break. While unsupervised, the older child bit and severely injured the baby. In addition to the possibility of a civil claim, the mother also pursued criminal child neglect charges against the babysitter.

Complexities in Babysitting Liability Cases

Every babysitting liability case is different. To learn more about a babysitter’s liability or what constitutes appropriate supervision, or if you have a case, reach out to a personal injury attorney familiar with caregiving injury cases. A child should never suffer needlessly because of a babysitter’s negligent or purposeful actions.

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