State settles abuse case for $2M
Reubyne Buentipo Jr. was seriously beaten after being returned to his mother's care
A trust will be set up to provide for the medical care of 12-year-old Reubyne Buentipo Jr., who has been in a coma since age 4 after being repeatedly shaken and beaten by his "ice"-addicted mother on Labor Day 1997.
Under the terms of a tentative settlement, the state has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the boy's father on behalf of his son's estate. The suit alleged that the state was negligent in allowing the boy to be returned to his mother despite reports she was physically abusing him.
The state has since made changes in the way it reunites abused children with their abusive parents and handles reports of alleged abuse.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett said he hopes the settlement will benefit the boy, who is now clinically blind, confined to a bed in a nursing home, where he is fed through tubes and is entirely dependent on others for his care.
"Obviously, no monetary settlement is going to reverse the effects of this tragedy, but I believe the settlement and all its terms are fair," Bennett said yesterday.
Attorneys for the boy could not be reached for comment. When reached earlier this week, attorney Francis O'Brien would only say that the parties were still in mediation.
In testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Bennett asked that the committee approve the $2 million -- part of a $2.097 million appropriations request to satisfy claims against the state.
The total settlement in the Buentipo case is about $3.5 million, with the remaining $1.5 million paid by AIG, the state's excess insurance carrier, Bennett said. Under standard conditions written in the policy, the insurance carrier has the right to settle the case for an amount it believes is appropriate.
It was the carrier's decision to settle, but the state did participate in settlement negotiations and the settlement agreement. Although the state technically did not have the right to object, "we felt it was a reasonable one," Bennett said of the settlement.
The money will first go toward medical care for Buentipo, with about $800,000 going toward repaying a lien to the state Department of Human Services for caring for him. In the event Buentipo dies, any remaining money in the trust will be used to pay back the state for any future liens, and the rest will go to charity, Bennett said.
Reubyne Buentipo Sr., who was a plaintiff in the case, gets nothing.
The state was prepared to go to trial this year after Circuit Court Judge Victoria Marks denied its request to dismiss the case.
Marks had ruled that the Department of Human Services had a "special relationship" with Reubyne Buentipo Jr. and that it had a duty to ensure his safety while under its custody. While the state did not dispute there was a special relationship, state attorneys argued it was only liable when it had custody of the child and control over his environment and individuals who could pose a danger to him.