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$1,250,000 Settlement for Failure to Report Abuse

Estate of Norris v. DYFS: A Monmouth County judge on Nov. 29 approved a $1.25 million settlement of a suit claiming the Division of Youth and Family Services’ mishandled response to reports of abuse led to a Jackson child’s death.

Kedar Norris, then 5, died on March 29, 2004, as the result of blunt force trauma to his abdomen that ruptured his intestines, says his estate’s lawyer, Daryl Zaslow, of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP in Edison.

The fatal blows were inflicted by his mother’s boyfriend, Royce Berry, now her husband, who was convicted of reckless manslaughter and child endangerment and is still in prison. The mother, Natesha Smith, pleaded guilty to child endangerment but drew no jail term.

A Dec. 9, 2004, report by the state Office of Child Advocacy faulted DYFS for its handling of two reports it received about Berry physically abusing the boy, in November 2002 and May 2003. DYFS did not check child care records that would have disclosed an earlier concussion, failed to have Kedar interviewed by a sexual abuse expert after the 2003 report and created an in-home case plan that ignored Kedar’s claims of excessive punishment by Berry, the report said.

Zaslow says he deposed the report’s author, Dr. E. Susan Hodgson, and would have sought to use her testimony and the report at trial under the admission against interest exception to the hearsay rule, since she is a state employee.

The settlement was reached at a Sept. 13 conference with Superior Court Judge David Bauman and later approved by Judge Joseph Quinn. The money will be split 70-30 between Jeffrey and Kaleem Norris, the father and brother of Kedar.

Deputy Attorney General Paul Nieves defended DYFS. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Lee Moore, confirms the settlement.