Georgia DFCS Sued for $1 Million after Disabled Teenage Girl Dies of Starvation
Many in the Smyrna community were shocked by the tragic death of a 14-year-old disabled girl who was so malnourished when she passed away that she weighed 43 pounds. WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News reports that the administrator of Markea Berry’s estate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $1 million against the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). The lawsuit alleges that the agency made multiple missteps during its handling of the teenage girl’s case.
WSB-TV reports that an affidavit from an experienced social worker retained by the estate of the girl listed a range of missteps and red flags in the child protective services case. The expert also indicated that the agency’s handling of the matter constitutes negligence and that a proper DFCS investigation would likely have prevented Markea’s starvation death.
While the case is still being investigated, other facts have reportedly been disclosed that might impact the lawsuit. The child welfare case was originally opened in 2010 when law enforcement authorities found Markea hiding inside an Austell Walmart. The girl indicated that she was afraid to return home. DFCS’s 150 page case file on Markea indicated signs of long-term abuse of Markea prior to her death from starvation.
There also have been a number of statements made to media sources that suggest other evidence that might be relevant in the wrongful death lawsuit. The grandmother of Markea has made multiple public statements indicating that Markea’s mother “hated” the girl. According to the grandmother, Markea’s mother made no secret of her lack of affection toward her disabled daughter. Further, the Director of Georgia Division of Family and Children Services said at the time of the girl’s death that the incident never should have happened.
The agency significantly revised its protocols in 2012 after an investigation into Markea’s starvation according to the Daily Report. However, the efficacy of those changes might be called into question given that Markea was less than 50 pounds when she died. Cobb County police Detective Christopher Twiggs told WSB-TV that the girl was essentially a skeleton with bones when her body was discovered. Markea’s mother currently remains in custody on murder charges in a Cobb County jail.
While public agencies like DFCS can be sued for wrongful death, a range of special issues must be considered. First, governmental agencies have limited sovereign immunity, so individuals initiating such lawsuits must comply with special deadlines and procedures for suing a public entity. Failure to comply with these special rules can result in a complete bar to suing a subdivision or agency of the government. Second, questions will need to be addressed about the knowledge DFCS had or should have had regarding abuse of Markea by her mother. Third, if the agency was aware of the abuse and neglect and took action, the sufficiency of any steps taken to protect the girl also must be evaluated.
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