Lawmaker seeks study on day-care insurance

By M. Scott Carter

[ June 28, 2011 – OKLAHOMA CITY ] Four years after workers at a child-care facility left a 3-year-old boy unattended in a van during a hot August day, many home-based facilities still don’t have liability insurance, a state representative said Monday.

Spurred by an incident involving Demarion Pittman, state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, authored ‘Demarion’s Law’ in 2008. That law requires day-care facilities to carry liability insurance. Shelton said he wrote the law after Pittman was left in a hot van and suffered a heat stroke that left him blind and unable to walk or talk.

“In recent years, we have made significant strides in getting more day-care centers to carry liability insurance, but far too many remain uninsured,” he said.

Because many facilities continue to go without insurance, Shelton announced plans for an interim legislative study to see if the state can develop incentives to encourage more child-care centers to purchase insurance.

“I believe we should study the issue to determine new ways to incentivize centers to obtain coverage, and implement that requirement in a way that does not drive day cares out of business,” he said.

Child-care professionals have endorsed the idea.

“Personally, I feel that every child-care provider should have liability insurance,” said Annette Barber, who operates a small child-care center in Edmond. “That insurance protects the child and protects the provider.”

She said her liability insurance costs about $225 per year.

“Those people who are working out of their home are making much more than that,” Barber said. “So there is no reason not to get insurance.”

While Oklahoma law requires day-care facilities to have liability insurance, some facilities can forego purchasing liability insurance, provided they notify their customers, said Mark Beutler, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services.

“All facilities are required to have liability insurance or notify the parents if they don’t,” Beutler said.

Although the legislation required day-care facilities to carry a minimum of $200,000 in coverage, the law included an exemption for facilities that claim they do not get liability insurance. Under the law, those facilities are required to notify parents of the lack of coverage. Both Shelton and Barber said the loophole was wrong.

“That’s not right, we all have to have car insurance, and a child’s life is much more important than car insurance,” Barber said.

Shelton said too many day-care centers are continuing to operate without liability insurance, leaving families potentially facing the financial burden for any accidents.

“Parents should not have to face losing their home and life savings to pay medical bills caused by the negligence of a child’s caregiver,” he said. “It is important for all day-care centers to have insurance coverage.”

Facilities that don’t purchase liability insurance are taking huge risks, said G. Calvin Sharpe, an attorney with the Phillips Murrah law firm.

“It’s just like anything else,” said Sharpe. “When you hire a roofer you want them to have insurance. Anyone you’re doing business with, you want them to have insurance,” he said. “That’s especially true if you have children.”

The need for liability insurance, Sharpe said, spans the business world.

“I’m sure there is a cost aspect that people won’t want to talk about,” he said. “But just about everyone has liability insurance: doctors, lawyers, professionals, accountants and medical care personnel. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Why would a business want to put itself at risk like that?”

One of many interim studies requested by lawmakers following the adjournment of the 2011 legislative session, Shelton is currently awaiting approval by House leaders to proceed with his study.

House leaders said the approved studies would be announced next week.

“Representative Shelton’s request to study whether home-care centers need liability insurance is receiving the same strong consideration as all other interim study requests,” House Speaker Kris Steele’s spokesman, John Estus, said. “All approved interim studies will be announced next week.”

Shelton said he was hopeful House leaders would examine the issue.

“Liability insurance is a necessity,” he said. “We really need to look at this issue. We need to better protect families and children. But this insurance is important; it’s the cost of doing business.”