Friday, May 09, 2003

Washing their hands? The Globe's Andrea Estes today has a story about a woman who will receive a $2.5 million judgment for having been impregnated at a facility for troubled teenagers when she was just 14 years old.

It's a well-told tale about a terrible breach of trust. What really caught my eye, though, was the last paragraph:

DMH officials were not named in the suit. They said private contractors assume responsibility for people under their care.

It seems that the private facility to which the then-teen was committed was under contract to the state's Department of Mental Health, yet the DMH assumes no legal liability for the performance of those contractors.

How can this be? If state officials decide to farm out their social obligations, how can they be any less responsible for the actions of the private companies that they hire than they would be for their own employees?

Maybe this isn't as bad as it sounds. Maybe the state requires contractors to carry liability insurance so that victimized clients have just as much opportunity to pursue redress as they would against the state. But Estes's story leaves this unresolved -- understandably so, since it's not the focus of her report.

Memo to Globe metro editor Carolyn Ryan: assign Estes to do a follow-up on this.

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