Lawyer couples lawsuit with campaign for day care safety

By: Peter Vieth, Virginia Lawyers Weekly

A Northern Virginia lawyer says he hopes to leverage his firm’s litigation against child care facilities to push for reforms to prevent children from becoming sexual abuse victims.

In the midst of trial preparation in one case of alleged child sexual assault, and showcasing a separate $22 million suit based on similar allegations, Peter S. Everett of Fairfax says he plans to focus attention on the need for better day care practices.

Failure to follow some of those practices exposes child care facilities to civil liability when employees turn into predators, Everett said.

On behalf of the injured children and their parents, Everett has sued the child care facilities, not the actual child molesters.

In both lawsuits, Everett claimed the operators failed to follow safety practices that would have limited or prevented the opportunity for abuse. In the latest complaint, targeting a Centreville facility, the lawsuit includes a negligent hiring claim.

The Fairfax County complaint against the Centreville unit alleges the perpetrator lied on his job application about his experience with child care and about his criminal record.

The employer, Minnieland Private Day School Inc., did not discover the discrepancies when it hired Siyamand Salehzadeh in 2010, the lawsuit alleges.

Salehzadeh now is serving a 17-year prison sentence for sodomizing a four-year-old girl at the facility that year. Charges involving another child victim were dropped.

Other incidents

Other Minnieland incidents are described.

In their lawsuit, the girl and her parents contend an employee at a Stafford County Minnieland facility was convicted of aggravated sexual battery involving two six-year-old children in a 2010 incident.

The lawsuit also claims that a man with a history of child sexual abuse was allowed to teach at a Prince William County Minnieland school from 2004 to 2012

Based in Manassas, Minnieland operates at least 50 facilities in Northern and Central Virginia, according to the lawsuit. A Minnieland Academy website states the company is made up of more than 100 licensed facilities of various types in Prince William County, Fredericksburg and Manassas.

The lawsuit alleges Salehzadeh was left alone to care for a classroom of children during their naptime. He allegedly was able to use a tall bookcase to hide his assault of the victim.

The suit lists claims for employer liability, negligence in security of the children, breach of contract, constructive and actual fraud, violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and liability for parents’ payment of medical expenses.

The company’s negligence allegedly included failure to install security cameras in the classroom, failure to monitor the classroom at naptime, authorizing an inexperienced teacher’s aide to take sole charge of a classroom for an extended period and allowing the position of furniture to block the view of some areas.

The situation calls for stronger regulation, Everett said.

“The regulations need to more clearly prohibit aides from being alone with children,” Everett said. “Our investigation of a series of assault cases revealed a disturbing pattern of male aides during naptime when neither teachers nor working cameras are present,” he added.

The suit demands $22,980,000 in compensatory damages, potentially tripled under the VCPA for willful violations. The suit had not yet been served at press time, but Richard S. Samet of Richmond acknowledged he was counsel for Minnieland in the action.

Samet questioned the timing of an Aug. 31 news release on the Fairfax lawsuit from Everett’s firm of Blankingship & Keith, coming just three weeks before a trial scheduled in Loudoun County based on similar allegations against a facility owned by Nobel Learning Communities Inc. of Pennsylvania.

Samet is defending that action, as well.

Samet said if Everett were concerned about lax state regulation, he should directly address the state Department of Social Services or the General Assembly, rather than issuing a news release.

Lawyer couples lawsuit with campaign for day care safety originally appeared in Virginia Lawyers Weekly on September 17, 2015