Dasia Morales-Kahoohanohano, shown here with her father, Jarrett Kahoohanohano, displays the surgical scar from an operation that saved her life. She is the recipient of a $1.1 million judgment against the Department of Human Services.
Family hopes $1.1M suit is reminder for state agency
A Maui girl recovers, and her grandfather hopes other kids will benefit from the ruling
The grandfather of an abused Maui girl who won a $1.1 million judgment against the state Department of Human Services says the lawsuit was about protecting other children and not about the money.
"It (the judgment and state Supreme Court ruling) is a major step for all children," said George Kahoohanohano, a retired Maui police captain and the grandfather of Dasia Morales-Kahoohanohano, now 10. "I don't want anyone else to go through what we went through."
The state Supreme Court upheld the judgment last month in what Kahoohanohano's attorney called a "landmark decision."
In a news conference yesterday, attorney Vlad Devins said the case should send a message to the Department of Human Services that protecting children is their primary responsibility.
"None of this should have happened," Devins said.
In February 2001, Morales-Kahoohanohano's mother and her boyfriend brought the girl to the hospital with a broken leg. Doctors at Maui Memorial Medical Center reported the case to Child Protective Services because they suspected child abuse.
The investigator allowed the child to return to her mother's custody without written restrictions and went on vacation for two weeks without completing the investigation or handing it off to another investigator, court records show.
Two months after the broken leg incident, Morales-Kahoohanohano's mother brought her to a pediatrician in critical condition with broken bones, a torn intestine, severe bruises and bleeding inside her skull. Morales-Kahoohanohano also suffered a leg injury, from which she is still recovering.
Morales-Kahoohanohano's mother and her ex-boyfriend were investigated by Maui police for possible child abuse, but no charges were brought.
In appealing the verdict, the attorney general's office argued that because the child was not in the care of CPS when the injuries occurred, the state was not liable for the injury.
The law, the state's attorneys argued, was not created to make the state "an insurer of all children's safety."
However, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Ronald Moon, concluded that the state law puts the responsibility of protecting children from further abuse on the Department of Human Services and that CPS was negligent in not providing that care.
In a written statement, Human Services Director Lillian Koller called the ruling "unfair to Hawaii's taxpayers" and "exasperating for our social workers, whose conduct may be condemned no matter what they do."
Koller also said CPS has improved during the past five years, and "our keiki are among the safest in the country."
Devins said the department has good policies to protect children, but in this case the policies were not followed.
Kahoohanohano said his granddaughter is "doing as best as can be expected." She still walks with a limp and will undergo more surgery on her leg. They are also monitoring her for psychological trauma.
Most of the money from the judgment will go into a trust fund that will go to Morales-Kahoohanohano when she turns 18.