An 11-year-old foster child returns from a home visit with cigarettes and matches. He and the other foster kid in the home went behind the foster parent’s garage where they couldn’t be seen to try to smoke the cigarettes. The wind was blowing that day, and they had a hard time keeping the matches lit. When one of the matches burned down to the little fingers that were holding it, the kid dropped the lit match. It fell onto a stack of old newspapers that the foster family was saving for a school newspaper drive. The fire that ensued destroyed several houses, one police car, one garage and the two cars that were inside it
The Claim That Followed
Thankfully, no one was injured in that fire that threatened an entire neighborhood. The litigation that followed, however, was like a firestorm. The neighbors, some of whom hadn’t wanted a foster home in their neighborhood to begin with, filed lawsuits against the foster parents and the private foster family agency that certified them. The city sued for the loss of their police car. The biological parents of the two foster children who started the fire filed a lawsuit alleging re-traumatization as a result of negligent supervision.
The insurance company defense attorney was able to demonstrate that the foster family agency had properly certified, trained, and monitored the foster family. The attorney also made the case that the FFA social worker and foster parents aren’t allowed to “frisk” children who return from a home visit, and therefore could not have known that the boy was sneaking in cigarettes and matches. The attorney also showed that it would be unreasonable to expect that parents (foster or otherwise) would have eyes on kids 24/7, and that since the foster mother had been outside, but had gone in to make lunch, leaving the boys to play in the yard, that she was not negligent in her parental responsibilities. The lawsuits alleging negligence were dismissed. The property damage claims were paid up to the limit of by the foster parent’s homeowner insurance policy.