Day-care Liability Bill Gets Bipartisan Support in Okla. House

March 6, 2008

Legislation that requires day-care centers to carry liability insurance has received bipartisan support in an Oklahoma House of Representatives committee.

The House Human Services Committee voted 15-0 for the legislation after the mother of a three-year-old boy who suffered a heat stroke after being left in a stifling vehicle by employees of an uninsured day-care facility urged lawmakers to pass it.

“The state of Oklahoma will say, ‘Hey, we care’,” said Edna Pittman of Oklahoma City, whose son, Demarion, suffered brain damage and was in a coma for two months after he was left in a day-care center van on Aug. 2.

The boy was in the van for several hours after returning from an outing to a bowling alley while in the care of day care center workers who apparently forgot about him after he fell asleep, Pittman said. His temperature was 117 degrees when he was finally pulled from the van.

Pittman said Demarion’s medical expenses have topped more than $1 million since the incident and that it will cost millions to care for him in the future. Demarion, who had been a normal three-year-old, can no longer walk and talk and has to be fed through a tube, she said.

The measure by Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, would require any day-care center licensed by the Department of Human Services to carry liability insurance. Shelton said large commercial day-care centers generally carry insurance, but some family operated, home-based facilities do not.

“I think that most parents would be absolutely shocked and outraged if they knew that the Department of Human Services does not currently require the people we have entrusted with our children to carry any type of liability insurance to cover injuries caused by negligence,” Shelton said.

Minimum coverage had been set at $200,000, but it was raised to $300,000 in an amendment by Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, the committee’s chairman. Peters said the coverage would cost a day care facility about $30 a month.

The committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, said day-care centers will pass along the cost of the insurance to families who use them and the cost of their services will go up.

“We’re not trying to close the doors of any day-care facility,” Shelton said. He said the goal of the measure is to make them safe and secure for children and their families.

The measure would also require day care facilities that are unable to obtain insurance to inform parents that they have no liability coverage. If a facility’s policy expires, it would be required to notify both DHS and the parents or caregivers of children in its care.

Shelton said state requirements for liability insurance vary. Some states mandate that child care facilities carry liability coverage, while others do not. Texas requires its day care facilities to carry a minimum of $300,000 in liability coverage, he said.

The measure, House Bill 2863, now goes to the House floor for a vote.

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