Lawsuit filed in toddler’s death

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Sawyer Kanofsky

The parents of a 17-month-old boy who died after choking at a Columbia child care center in January filed a 32-count lawsuit in Monroe County Court on Friday. 

Mary and Bryan Kanofsky, parents of Sawyer Kanofsky, filed the 92-page suit against Carrot Patch Day Care Center, its owners Douglas and Angela Briggs, and employees Kimberly Feldt, Chelsea Gerberding, Courtney Eschmann, Jennifer Hood, Katherine Kessler and Ashlynn Balentine. 

The specific accusations in each of those cases vary, but the toddler’s parents are suing each defendant for wrongful death and survival action. 

The allegations of negligence change among the counts, and there are also counts for each employee under a legal doctrine that states an employer is liable for the wrongs an employee or agent commits as part of their job. 

For each count, the Kanofskys are seeking damages in excess of $50,000, the cost of the suit and any other relief the court “deems just and proper.”

Columbia police and EMS responded the morning of Jan. 20 to reports of a toddler choking at the child care center, located at 252  Veterans Parkway. 

The Waterloo toddler was rushed by ambulance to Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis County, where he was pronounced dead that afternoon. 

“The Carrot Patch staff are all overwhelmed with grief and heartbroken for the family,” Angela Briggs said at the time. 

The day care did not respond to a request for comment on this lawsuit before press time. 

According to the filing, Sawyer had been escorted to the playground by one or more Carrot Patch employees.

He “was caused to choke to death on one or more objects found on the playground” the lawsuit says. 

Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon, who drove the ambulance with Sawyer in it that morning, said the medical examiner determined the object was “either a rock or a pebble.” 

For the counts against the day care itself, the lawsuit argues that it had a duty to warn or take reasonable steps to protect Sawyer and the public from “unreasonably dangerous conditions on the premises.” 

“At the time Sawyer was on the playground, there existed one or more conditions that presented an unreasonable risk of harm to children,” the suit, filed by Columbia attorney Clay St. Clair, states. 

Specifically, the suit alleges Carrot Patch was negligent for 16 reasons including using a playground surface that “posed a real and immediate choking hazard,” permitting loose-fill surfacing materials in the area, failing to contain those materials, failing to keep the play area free of hazardous materials and items, allowing objects smaller than permitted in Illinois Administrative Code  and “unsafe and inappropriately sized materials” in the area and maintaining a play area that failed to allow sufficient visibility for employees. 

Those allegations are the same for the wrongful death and survival action counts – including those against the owners. 

For each of the employees, who held several roles at the facility at the time of the incident, the ways in which the lawsuit alleges they were negligent differ. 

Most of the accusations of negligence are that the employees allowed Sawyer to play in an unsafe area described in the counts against the owners and the business. 

For certain individuals, they also include that the person or their designee did not inspect the play area, used “improper techniques in the performance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other lifesaving procedures upon Sawyer” or “failed to adequately render aid to Sawyer” while “he was in distress.”

Again, for each count against the employee, there is a corresponding count against the business saying it is responsible for the actions or inactions of its workers. 

Mary and Bryan are also each suing the business for violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud & Deceptive Business Practices Act. 

The argument in those two counts, essentially, is that Carrot Patch represented itself as a “safe and appropriate” day care center, but it then allowed Sawyer to use the unsafe area described in the other counts. 

A final element of the case, as of now, is that the parents filed an emergency  motion for protective order because they have requested that the scene of the incident be preserved and inspected by an expert. 

The motion alleges the defendants, through their insurance company, rejected that request and are altering the site where Sawyer was injured. 

The Kanofskys are concerned “the physical evidence may be altered or disposed of” if the order is not granted, per the motion. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, court information showed no response by any of the defendants to the initial lawsuit or motion. 

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