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Infant Suffered Malnourishment at Hands of Parents, CPS Ignored Case Until it was Too Late

Children depend on adults for their health and well-being. When parents can’t meet their children’s needs, society relies on Child Protective Services to identify dangerous conditions and move them to a safe environment.

Child Protective Services (CPS) in Tulare County, California, were alerted to a six-month-old malnourished baby named JG. The parents were engrossed in a cultish online society rooted in extreme nutrition. They believed that diseases were not real and that optimal health could be achieved through a diet exclusively of fruit. They devised a plan to raise a fruit-based baby. Tulare County CPS failed to take action as the baby’s condition deteriorated. The case passed from desk to desk among the case workers until JG was 11 months old. By the time authorities stepped in, JG was so malnourished that he suffered permanent brain damage.

Brian Panish, Peter Kaufman, and Wyatt Vespermann of Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP were brought into the case by JG’s grandmother. They wanted to determine why CPS had not intervened quicker and sought justice for JG. The county obstructed Brian, Pete, and Wyatt nearly every step of the way. For instance, when they sought JG’s juvenile case file, it took many months and a visit to the Court of Appeals to access the documents. Once they could finally view JG’s file, they began deposing CPS staff. What they learned was shocking:

First, the social worker who initially received JG’s endangerment report completely ignored JG’s case, claiming concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Next, CPS transferred JG’s file to a newly hired social worker, still being trained, who was already overwhelmed with dozens of other cases.

Brian, Pete, and Wyatt’s legal strategy focused on both causation and damages. CPS attorneys deflected causation by claiming that even if they had spotted an issue, there might not have been anything they could have done to help the baby. Then, they minimized JG’s damages claim by asserting that he would die young because of the brain damage. Thus, the lawsuit should be worth less.

As Brian, Pete, and Wyatt prepared his case, the Defense mounted a final radical, desperate argument: even if CPS had done its job and visited JG quickly, they would not have seen a problem. To refute the county’s claims and establish liability, Brian, Pete, and Wyatt worked with a pediatrician from Stanford who opined what kind of damages CPS social workers would have seen had they visited JG in a reasonable amount of time. The pediatrician confirmed that JG looked starkly different from an adequately fed baby. However, to reinforce the doctor’s claims, the trio recruited DK Global to animate how much JG’s malnourishment impacted his physical development.

The animation began with a depiction of JG at six months old, when Tulare County CPS was initially alerted, showing a clearly sick child on the brink of starvation. Next, the presentation transitioned to what JG looked like at birth, showing his normal height and weight. Then, JG was portrayed at one month, well under normal height and weight. Photos were juxtaposed next to the animation for accuracy. From there, JG was pictured next to a silhouetted healthy baby. At two months, JG was in the bottom 10.5% of the growth curve. At six months, he was in the bottom 2.61%. At seven months, JG developed a persistent rash in his groin and buttocks due to neglect. By eight months, JG was in the bottom 0.85% of the growth curve. At ten months, in the bottom 0.16 percentile, he had no hair, a shrunken neck, swollen hands and feet, and an undeveloped ribcage. Finally, at 11 months, JG was in the 0.1 percentile and was shown unconscious, wearing a foam helmet due to the profound brain damage.

Brian, Pete, and Wyatt brought the DK Global animation to mediation with the county. The county initially stood by its causation arguments. However, once the mediator saw the animation, the conversation shifted to damages. Finally, the County of Tulare agreed to settle the matter for $32,000,000, as well as an apology to JG for what he experienced.

Wyatt Vespermann is an attorney at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, focusing on mass tort pharmaceutical and medical device litigation. Originally from a small farming community in California’s Central Valley, Wyatt currently represents women impacted by the July 2019 worldwide recall of Allergan BIOCELL® textured breast implants. He is an active member of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles.

Since joining Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP in 2010, Peter Kaufman has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients. Specializing in pharmaceutical, medical device, and catastrophic personal injury litigation, Pete is recognized as a Best Lawyer in America in the areas of Plaintiffs Personal Injury Litigation and Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions. In February 2020, Pete was appointed to serve on the Plaintiffs Executive committee in the Allergan BIOCELL® Textured Breast Implants Products Liability Litigation. He is licensed to practice law in California and Florida and before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and the United States District Court for the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida.

Brian Panish is a founding partner at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, and is one of the country’s leading trial attorneys. He is one of the most sought-after litigators, with victories including a record-setting $4.9 billion verdict against General Motors, over 100 verdicts over $10 million, six verdicts over $50 million, and more than 500 verdicts and settlements over $1 million.

In addition to being listed in Best Lawyers since 2001 and Southern California Super Lawyers since 2004, Brian was named among the 2023 Leading Commercial Litigators in California by the Daily Journal, is among Lawdragon’s 2022 Top 500 Leading Lawyers in America, was the 2019 Best Lawyers Lawyer of the Year for Plaintiff Personal Injury Litigation in Los Angeles, along with dozens of additional accolades going back to his 1999 selection as Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA).

Most recently, Brian was retained to represent the husband and son of Halyna Hutchins, a cinematographer who was fatally shot and killed by Alec Baldwin on the movie set of ‘Rust’ in October 2021. In addition to dozens of awards and honors, Brian serves as President of the prestigious Inner Circle of Advocates, is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Society of Barristers, the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), and was the 2011 President of the Los Angeles Chapter of ABOTA. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA), and the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC).

"DK Global is great to work with, very responsive. We've done a lot of work with them over the years and have created some great visual aids."
Brian Panish - Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP
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