Couple sues Lombard day care where infant daughter died

An Elmhurst couple whose infant daughter died at a west suburban day care has filed a lawsuit against the business, alleging that understaffing and negligence led to the child’s death.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed Tuesday in DuPage County against Tender Harts, a day care operated in a Lombard residence. The suit alleges 3-month-old Tessa McDaniel was left unattended and “sustained an injury” that caused her death at the day care Nov. 15.

Corboy and Demetrio, the Chicago law firm representing the McDaniel family, said an owner of the center left the infant unattended for up to 30 minutes before she was found not breathing. The law firm said Wednesday the cause of the child’s death is undetermined. The DuPage County coroner’s office did not return a phone call seeking additional information.

The suit alleges that on the day Tessa died, one of the day care owners, Jason Hart, was supervising 20 children, a ratio that is in violation of state standards.

“Licensing standards for day care homes exist for the safety of vulnerable children and must never be violated,” said Rene Torrado, one of the attorneys for the McDaniel family. “Attempting to supervise and care for 20 children by himself was a recipe for disaster.”

Hart did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services confirmed Wednesday that it is investigating the child’s death, but department spokeswoman Veronica Resa said she could not offer additional details because of confidentiality requirements. Tender Harts voluntarily shut down after the child’s death and has remained closed while the DCFS investigation is pending, Resa said.

A DCFS website indicates that the agency is reviewing 13 possible violations against Tender Harts, including provisions that limit the number of children allowed in a group day care.

According to the suit, the infant was at the day care on South Lodge Lane and awake in a crib when Hart picked her up and placed her on her stomach on a floor mat. He then left her to go warm up a bottle, the complaint said. When he checked on the child, perhaps 30 minutes later, she was not breathing, according to the suit.

At the time Tessa died, Hart was caring for 20 children by himself and allowed two other employees to leave the business, the suit alleges.

The suit filed by Tessa’s parents, Katlyn and Sean McDaniel, seeks damages of $50,000 or more.

“The main reason for this lawsuit is child safety,” attorney Thomas Demetrio said. “Tessa’s parents do not want this tragedy to happen to any other children.”

This article was first published by The Chicago Tribune.

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