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November 9, 2007 2:18 PM   Subscribe

When can you sue the babysitter?

A friend of mine has a 9 month old baby. She told me yesterday that if anything bad happened to her baby while under the care of the family, friends, or the daycare she sends it to, she would expect the person/institution to cough up the cash to take care of the baby's injury or lifelong disability.

The daycare center has insurance for this purpose. But what about friends and family? Would homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance cover this? What if you don't have home insurance?

And how much does it matter if it wasn't the caretaker's fault? For example, what if the baby chokes on food that the mother herself said was safe, and doesn't get to the hospital in time?

Makes me never want to babysit again.
posted by tk to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's because of people like your friend that I don't babysit for anyone - not even friends or family - without a 6-page, signed contract. (I've never had any incidents with injured children in my care... well, nothing worse than a normal injury like a bruise on the playground... my contract arose from being fired for not doing chores I was never asked to do, or being stiffed out of my pay.)
posted by IndigoRain at 2:30 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

um, that ought to be covered in the baby's health insurance. if there is some provable negligence, i suppose she could sue.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2007

Your friend's expectation, if it really is as blanket an expectation as you say, is not reasonable. Negligence or active abuse, ok. But accidents that are not caused by negligence, I have a hard time imagining that any court would force a sitter to pay for at all, let alone "pay for lifetime care". If your friend explains this to possible babysitters and family, she may find that she can never get anyone to care for her child.

Homeowner's insurance covers some liability issues -- for example if someone trips and breaks their leg on your front steps, that can be covered (up to some amount) by your homeowners/renter's insurance. This would probably cover certain kinds of harm to a baby, but not others.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:55 PM on November 9, 2007

Your friend sounds extremely unreasonable. How would she justify suing someone if it wasn't that person's fault?
posted by reeddavid at 2:59 PM on November 9, 2007

To the degree that this question is a legal one, I think nobody can really answer it. Much would depend on the laws of the jurisdiction in which your friend lives. Much would depend on the nature of the injury the child sustained -- if it's serious enough, it might even be prosecuted as a criminal act by the state. WRT to homeowner's insurance, everything would depend on the terms of the insurance policy. Also, if the fault was partially hers, some jurisdictions permit contributory negligence findings, others don't.

What I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around, though, is why your friend is thinking in such prospectively macabre terms. Is she anticipating the child will be harmed while in the care of someone else? If so, perhaps she should stop using that particular child care provider. Also, why on earth would you sue someone, like a babysitter, who in all likelihood makes just above minimum wage?
posted by lassie at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sadly there is no place in todays world for the informal babysitter.

Aside from that your friend sounds horrible. Suing her own friends and family?
posted by fire&wings at 4:11 PM on November 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

IANAL, but I believe there would have to be abuse or negligence in order for an abuse suit to have any teeth.

Of course, this might not stop your friend from filing a lawsuit, and it may not stop a lawyer from taking it or a judge from listening, just because little Timmy tripped and cracked his head, or stuck a bean up his nose. This would no doubt be thrown out eventually, but might make life temporarily miserable for the friend or family member being sued.

I predict that this lady will wonder why she's always trapped at home with the kid and can never get someone to watch Timmy just for an hour so she can catch a break.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:31 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

In the US, you can sue anyone at any time for any reason. I could sue you right now for infliction of emotional distress by making me think about a person horrible enough to sue her family members if her child were accidentally injured in their care.
BUT. Filing suit != going to trial which != winning the suit which != recovering any money. She could, if she could find a lawyer willing to do it (or do it herself) file a suit; it might (probably?) get dismissed for frivolity or failure to state a claim. If it made it past that (fairly low) burden, she'd then have to prove the liability and damages. Even if she got a judgment, she'd have a hell of a time collecting from a 16 year old kid whose biggest asset is their 12 year old Honda. Not to mention the whole destroying-relationships effect of suing the people you hold dear.
Negligence and abuse are the things she might be able to recover for, if she could prove them. All in all, it doesn't sound like she's a particularly fine legal mind. She can expect all she wants, but reality would probably deal her a harsh blow if (god forbid) this situation ever came to pass.
posted by katemonster at 5:55 PM on November 9, 2007

Personally, I would stay as far away from this kind of person as possible. Not to be intentionally disparaging or anything, but she sounds like the type of person looking to scam her way into a court-ordered payday.

Accidents happen. Get over it. You want to live in a perfect world? Go find an deserted island and move there.

It's one thing to say "school/daycare neglected to watch my child and as a result they wandered into the street and were hit and now have massive brain damage" and another thing entirely of expecting family/friends to pay up in a normal, everyday accident.

When I was 10 I fell out of a tree I was playing in at a friends house and busted my wrists. Had to have casts up to my shoulders for months. Did my mother go demanding money because the neighbors tree didn't hold me in its bark-covered embrace when I was an idiot jumping from branch to branch? No. Of course not. She had a brain and was relatively well adjusted and knew it was an accident. She knew the other parents did what they could to watch 3 overactive 10 yr olds and what happened was just a freak thing.

Silly people. Seems like everyone these days in the USA (and elsewhere) are trained to believe that everyone else OWES them something.

There Ain't No Such Thing as Free Lunch!
posted by damiano99 at 7:27 PM on November 9, 2007

Lassie - Not necessarily true. I was paid $9/hour a few years ago. Someone recently posted a "how much to pay the sitter" calculator, and it indicated I could make $12 an hour now, in my area, as an experienced adult with CPR & First Aid certification.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:28 PM on November 9, 2007

The liability portion of homeowners/renters insurance would cover it up to the limits of the policy.

Not necessarily: if you're babysitting for money, the service may fall under a "business pursuit" or "home care service" exclusion that is common in many homeowner's insurance policy. What these exclusions say, essentially, is that if anyone is injured during a business pursuit you operate out of your home, or while you are engaged in a home care service (i.e., caring for people, such as elderly or children), the homeowner's policy does not cover liability arising out of those activities. I recall reading an appeals court case in which the court determined that the parents of a drowned child were out of luck in trying to recover from the babysitter's homeowner's policy, due to these exclusions.
posted by jayder at 7:43 PM on November 9, 2007

homeowner's won't cover this.

if it's done for economic purposes, IE pay... that almost certainly falls outside of the scope of coverage.
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 11:37 PM on November 9, 2007

Sure, she sounds like a jerk, but I think ...

Just chiming in to say it's possible that having a nine month old means you are kinda nuts. Especially if you are the mom and breast-feeding, your body is filled with some crazy self-medication. Depending on the sleep habits of your baby, your ability to cope with sleeplessness, endless crying, whatever chemicals pulse through the brain that make you NOT smother your child and yet also make it impossible to do simple math or remember where your car is parked or tolerate husbands, parents, friends....slow drivers...? Am I being clear? Adjusting to the frighteningly real face of mortality in your grasp, while in above state, might just make you act like a dick.

Any chance your friend is just really in need of a nap?

I realize this doesn't answer your question, it's just in response to your last sentence. And I can't really help you there, as I just started to babysit for a friend of mine, and I'm in my thirties.
posted by metasav at 1:04 AM on November 10, 2007

IndigoRain: After I typed that yesterday, it occurred to me that it was a bit of a sweeping generalization to say that all baby sitters earn a little more than minimum wage. I guess my more relevant point was that if the friend hopes to recover monetary damages that will cover the cost of caring for a disabled child for that child's lifetime, she would do better going after deeper pockets than those of a typical babysitter, or even the average day care center. So, your point is duly noted, and I should have been clearer.
posted by lassie at 7:20 AM on November 10, 2007

Is your friend a lawyer?
posted by Hogshead at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2007

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