Are Social Workers Liable for Damages Arising from Their Actions ?

In Darryl H. v. Coler 801 F.2d 893 (7th Cir. 1986) the court upheld the grant of summary judgment for caseworkers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The caseworkers had conducted visual inspections of the unclothed bodies of children to determine whether they had been abused. The Seventh Circuit opinion held that the caseworkers were protected from damage liability even if the physical examinations themselves may have been unconstitutional. In Landstrom v. Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, 892 F.2d 670 (7th Cir. 1990), the court similarly upheld the dismissal of a suit brought by parents against a social worker and school personnel. The defendants had physically examined a student and questioned the student and her sister to determine if the student had been abused. These actions were taken in spite of the fact that the father objected to the examination and questioning. In Zamstein v. Marvasti, 240 Conn. 549, 692 A.2d 781 (Conn. 1997), the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a psychiatrist who had performed an evaluation on children to determine whether they had been sexually abused owed no duty to the father even though he had been cleared of criminal charges in the case. "Imposing such a duty creates too high a risk that, in close cases, mental health professionals would conclude that no sexual abuse had occurred because they feared potential liability to the suspected abusers, rather than because of their professional judgment that, in all likelihood, no abuse had occurred. Because 'rules of law have an impact on the manner in which society conducts its affairs'; Maloney v. Conroy, 208 Conn. 392, 403-404, 545 A.2d 1059 (1988); we conclude that the sounder judicial ruling is to hold that no such duty exists." Zamstein, 692 A.2d at 787. In Whaley v. State, 90 Wn. App. 658, 956 P.2d 1100, (Wash. App. Div. 1 1998), the court held that the statutory immunity for persons who made good faith reports of suspected child abuse was not limited to the initial report. The supplying of further information to follow up the initial report was protected by the same qualified immunity, though the information reported may have been incomplete or inaccurate. Whaley, 956 P.2d at 1106. Other jurisdictions have found social workers liable for damages arising from their actions taken in response to allegations of child abuse which were subsequently shown to be false.