On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FN-01-173-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 23, 2012
Before Judges Fisher, Alvarez and St. John.
In these consolidated appeals, both parents of G.R., who was born on February 5, 2009, argue that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of abuse and neglect, and that the finding was based on a mistaken application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. We find no error and affirm.
The proofs adduced by the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division)*fn1 at a fact-finding hearing revealed the following.
Defendants S.T. and R.R. are the biological parents of G.R.*fn2
Both defendants were employed in the Atlantic City casino industry. On March 27, 2009, the Division received a referral from Kathleen Brown, a nurse at AltantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona. An investigation concluded that the seven- week old child was sleeping on defendant S.T.'s chest when her child fell off onto the floor. The mother picked up the child, who was awake but not crying, and noticed the child's eye had begun to swell and a knot formed on her forehead; there was also a little blood on the child's nose. The child soon began crying non-stop. Hysterical and panicky, the mother called R.R., the child's father, at work so they could take the infant to the emergency room.
Medical personnel at the hospital determined that the infant suffered a right parietal skull fracture; the attending doctor felt the injuries were consistent with the mother's account of events. Mother and child were flown by helicopter to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where the treating physician advised that the child suffered a subconjunctival hemorrhage to her left eye. The child remained hospitalized until April 2, 2009.
On March 30, 2009, a Division caseworker spoke with the child's attending nurse, who informed her that the mother had acted appropriately with the child, cared for her daily at the hospital, and was bonded with the child. The caseworker, however, also learned of evidence that the child had healing rib fractures. On April 1, 2009, Dr. Sarah Frioux, of Children's Hospital, advised the Division that x-rays revealed eleven healing rib fractures and all fractures were more than two but less than eight weeks old.
On April 2, 2009, while the child remained hospitalized, the Division filed this action. The parties consented to the Division's request for custody, and the child was placed with her paternal grandparents upon her release from the hospital.
At a fact-finding hearing held on April 28 and 29, 2010, the Division called Dr. Frioux as an expert witness. Dr. Frioux testified that it would be impossible for a child to fracture the back side of her head, as the child had, simply by falling onto her face, as reported; according to Dr. Frioux, the Scan Unit of Children's Hospital suspected that on some other occasion the child had received an impact to the back of her head. Dr. Frioux further opined that the ruptured blood vessel the child sustained to her left eye was not consistent with a fall to the floor; that, for such an injury to occur, pressure would need to be put on the eye itself, and it was difficult to comprehend how a flat floor would have produced that result.
Because the child suffered a right skull fracture and injuries to her left eye, Dr. Frioux surmised there must have been two separate impacts. After speaking with the child's parents, Dr. Frioux learned of a second fall several weeks earlier in which the child had fallen off the mother's chest much like the March 27, 2009 incident. Dr. Frioux testified it was possible the skull fracture resulted from this earlier fall and acknowledged there was no way to determine the age of the prior injury. She noted that ...