Nearly four months after the death of 2-year-old Haile Brockington—left unattended for hours in a hot van outside the daycare center she attended—Palm Beach County, Fla., has fined the center’s owners $2,000.
The amount is the maximum allowable for the four child care regulations violated in this case. Four fines—one for each violation—totaling $2,000 were levied against Kathryn Muhammad and Barbara Dilthey by the county’s Environmental Hearing Board.
Muhammad and Dilthey, along with the driver of the van, Amanda Inman, and the facility itself—Katie’s Kids Learning Center in Delray Beach—have been named as defendants in a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of the Brockington family by Miami injury and child safety lawyers, Grossman Roth, P.A.
Haile, who was found lifeless and still strapped into her car seat on August 5, had endured temperatures of more than 130 degrees in the van. She had been in the vehicle for more than six hours.
Initially, the Palm Beach County Health Department recommended fines of $250 for each violation, but in a 3-1 decision, the Environmental Hearing Board ruled that Haile’s death was caused to increase the penalties to the maximum permitted.
The child’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, said board member David Freudenberg, who supported increasing the fines, were “more serious than anything the board has seen. If there were more [we were allowed to do], we could do more. But our hands are tied here.”
Inman, along with the center’s director, Petra Rodriguez, have been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child. Police investigators found that both had checked off Haile’s name on transportation, attendance, and meal logs that day, even though the toddler had never left the van parked outside.
Grossman Roth attorney Andrew Yaffa, the child safety lawyer heading the civil suit for Haile’s parents, said he thought health department officials did everything they could, considering the existing procedures and limitations on fines.
“Given the severity of the loss, the nature of what happened, [the owners] are lucky to get away with what they did,” Yaffa said. Only a wrongful death lawsuit, he added, will send a truly effective message to daycare providers: that those entrusted to care for children must take all necessary steps and precautions to keep them safe.