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Alabama jury awards $15 million in wrongful death lawsuit involving adopted child

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) – Nearly a decade after an 8-year-old child died after experiencing breathing problems while in foster care, two of those prosecuted and held accountable have been found liable by a jury and ordered to pay $15 million to the child’s estate.

On August 5, a Montgomery County jury found Kristi Kelley and Becky Van Gilder responsible for the death of the child, who died May 30, 2013 at the Children’s of Alabama. The child’s death came after he suffered breathing problems while in foster care.

Kelley was a social worker with the Alabama Department of Human Resources, while Gilder was the victim’s adoptive parent.

According to a lawsuit filed in January 2015 by estate attorney Andrew Moak, the child was placed in the custody of DHR. Subsequently, Kelley placed the boy in foster care with Van Gilder. The lawsuit said the child suffered from sickle cell anemia, which he had been able to manage with medication up to that point. The estate claimed that although Kelley and Van Gilder received the child’s medication, it was never administered to him.

The lawsuit said that on May 29, 2013, the child began having difficulty breathing, which they say was a side effect of sickle cell anemia. After supposedly being told to go back to bed, the child began experiencing more severe breathing problems a few hours later, requiring him to be taken to Baptist South Medical Center. There, the child was diagnosed with acute chest syndrome and was later taken to children’s hospital, where he died.

“Defendants Christy Kelley, Becky Van Gilder… negligently, wantonly or willfully wronged AC by violating appropriate DHR checklists, guidelines, rules, statutes, regulations or orders requiring them to monitor and ensure that AC’s condition was properly managed and controlled,” Moak wrote in the lawsuit.

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