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Chicago Personal Injury Blog

Do Daycares Have Personal Injury Liability For Childhood Illness Outbreaks?

by Jared Staver in Personal Injury, Premises Liability

The measles outbreak that has become a subject of national discussion has hit Chicago, according to recent news reports. Two young children were diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening illness, three more were waiting confirmation of their tests, and another 10 children may be at risk for getting the virus because they’re too young to be vaccinated, according to NBC Chicago.

The outbreak at the daycare raises the question whether there might be some personal injury liability in general for negligence when childcare facilities allow children infected with measles to attend and potentially expose other children, or allow children to attend who are old enough to receive the vaccines for childhood illnesses but whose parents have opted out of vaccination.

The pertinent questions are:

  • Does a facility such as a daycare or private school owe a duty of care to children who might be infected with contagious diseases by unvaccinated children?
  • If so, did the childcare facility breach its duty of care by allowing unvaccinated children to attend?
  • Is the spread of disease a foreseeable harm when unvaccinated children attend daycares?

The answer to those questions in any individual case will always depend on the unique facts and circumstances of that particular case, and so this isn’t intended as an opinion on the specific outbreak at the daycare mentioned in the NBC Chicago report. In fact, the report notes that the daycare where the outbreak occurred has informed any unvaccinated staff, children, or teachers to stay at home for 21 days to try to prevent the further spread of illness.

However, in general there may be a potential for personal injury liability when a child suffers injuries or harm because a daycare, private school, or childcare facility allowed the child to be exposed to a preventable illness. It certainly can be argued that a childcare facility owes a duty of care to the children who attend the school. In fact, a childcare facility could be found liable for negligence when a child wanders because a gate isn’t locked or falls out of a crib because the staff wasn’t properly supervising the child.

Those examples are a little more clear-cut than when an outbreak of an illness, but a skilled personal injury lawyer could make the argument that if a childcare facility knows that a child has been exposed to an illness such as measles and hasn’t been vaccinated, and allows that child to attend programs and expose other children, the facility may be in breach of its duty of care. It’s also arguable that when children who can get vaccinated are not, it’s foreseeable that illness may spread. Those arguments may add up to personal injury liability for the facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles is caused by a virus that lives in the mucus in a person’s nose and throat. When someone who is infected with the virus coughs or sneezes, it can spread to other people. The CDC says the virus can live for two hours in the air or on a surface, such as a door handle, after a person coughs or sneezes. When other people breathe that air or touch that surface, they can become infected if they then touch their own eyes, noses, or mouths. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of people close to an infected person also become infected.

Measles can be a very serious illness, especially for young children. Complications can include hearing loss, pneumonia, brain swelling, and convulsions. Measles is fatal in about 1 or 2 cases out of every 1,000. The disease was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000 following wide-scale vaccination efforts, but has had a resurgence recently, including an outbreak at Disneyland in California that has spread to 17 states, including Illinois.

There may be valid reasons why a parent chooses not to vaccinate a child, but it’s probably better for a facility that wants to avoid liability to ask that those students stay home when they’re exposed to illnesses such as measles.

If your child has suffered an injury because of negligence by a daycare, the experienced Chicago personal injury attorneys at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. can discuss your options for pursuing a claim for compensation. You may be able to recover medical costs and other damages. Call us today at (312) 236-2900 for a free consultation.