A federal court in Indiana recently held that a hospital reporting suspected child abuse to the proper local authority based upon the results of a routine drug screening of a newborn was, notwithstanding a reporting immunity statute, liable to the parents for failing to notify immediately the Department of Child Services when it subsequently learned the test results were erroneous. See McCauley v. Lake County Department of Child Services and Munster Medical Research Foundation, et al., No. 2:06-CV-4121(N.D. Ind. Dec 19, 2008).

The hospital learned that the routine drug screening test results were incorrect only after the Department of Child Services had taken custody of the children from the parents. Within eight days of first ascertaining that the results of drug screening were erroneous, the hospital notified the Department of Child Services. The parents claimed that the hospital’s report was made maliciously or in bad faith because it was made before the test results were confirmed. The court, however, found that the initial report was made in good faith and dismissed the malicious reporting claim under the immunity statute.

The parents then argued that the hospital should be liable to the parents if the hospital subsequently determines that the information reported was incorrect and takes no immediate remedial action to correct the report. The court held that while the Indiana statute provides that a person who makes or causes a report of child abuse or neglect to be made is immune from civil or criminal liability unless the report is made maliciously or in bad faith, it does not provide immunity to persons who make erroneous good faith reports but fail to correct them upon learning of the error. The court found that the hospital’s delay of at most eight days in correcting the report proximately caused the delayed return of the children to the parents.  

While the McCauley decision is poor and unlikely to be followed, providers should assure that they have mechanisms in place to correct faulty reports to regulatory bodies in a prompt manner.