A.A., M.W., AND C.A., BY AND THROUGH THEIR MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, RHONDA LEWIS, AND THE ESTATE OF WATSON ADKINS, DECEASED, BY AND THROUGH ITS ADMINISTRATOR, RHONDA LEWIS APPELLANTS
KRISTY SHUTTS, M.D. APPELLEE
FROM FLOYD CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JOHNNY RAY HARRIS, JUDGE
ACTION NO. 13-CI-00059
FOR APPELLANTS: Joe F. Childers Lexington, Kentucky Stephen
G. Amato Lexington, Kentucky
FOR APPELLEE: Christopher P. O'Bryan Whitney R. Kramer
BEFORE: ACREE, CLAYTON, AND J. LAMBERT, JUDGES.
minors were placed in the foster care of their aunt and
uncle. One of the minors, Watson Adkins, was abused and
murdered by the same uncle. The Appellants herein are
Watson's estate and the surviving minors, by and through
their mother, their next friend and administrator, Rhonda
Lewis. They will be referred to collectively as the Adkins
Estate. The Appellee herein, Dr. Kristy Shutts, treated
Watson prior to his death and was sued by the Adkins Estate
for failing to report his abuse to the proper authorities
pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes ("KRS")
620.030. Dr. Shutts moved for summary judgment raising
multiple grounds. The trial court considered some of the
grounds and granted Dr. Shutts's motion for immunity from
suit pursuant to KRS 620.050(1), finding that she neither
acted in bad faith nor intentionally failed to report the
abuse. The trial court also found "there was no
reasonable cause for the doctor to suspect abuse[, ]"
thus "the requirements of KRS 620 to report said abuse
did not apply."
there were other issues put before the trial court in the
motion, the trial court expressly reserved those issues in
the event the order granting immunity was reversed and
remanded on appeal. The Adkins Estate now appeals.
February of 2011, Watson and his three siblings were placed
in the foster care of their aunt and uncle because their
mother was dealing with drug-related issues. The placement
proved disastrous, as Watson died from blunt-force injuries
inflicted by his uncle on September 29, 2011. He was nearly
Shutts's involvement began in February of 2011, shortly
after the children were first placed in their foster home,
when Dr. Shutts conducted the children's physical
examinations. Her next involvement with Watson was in May of
2011. There, the children's mother had filed a report
with social services alleging that the children were being
abused by the aunt and uncle. Social services investigated,
and both the aunt and uncle denied any abuse. Social services
directed that the aunt take Watson to Dr. Shutts.
May 12, 2011 visit, the aunt informed Dr. Shutts about the
purpose of the visit and the abuse allegations made by the
mother. The aunt stated that Watson had fallen on a vent in
the living room and injured himself. Watson's condition
at the appointment - faint bruising on his forehead and two
small scabs - was consistent with the aunt's explanation.
Other than a failed hearing test and some difficulties with
expressive language, the medical records show that
Watson's physical condition was unremarkable.
services workers contacted Dr. Shutts about the appointment
and received a copy of the medical exam. They also
investigated all injuries that the other children had
incurred in the months leading up to the complaint. All
injuries were alleged by the aunt and uncle to have
accidentally occurred by playing with toys and falling down.
A detailed, ten-page report was created by social services.
It concluded, "No maltreatment was found and the finding
is unsubstantiated on Gladys and Jason Dickerson [the aunt
and uncle] based on interviews with the alleged victims,
perpetrators and collaterals as well as hard copy
documentation including medication records." Dr. Shutts
stated that she was advised by social services that they had
investigated and determined there was no evidence of child
was next seen at Dr. Shutts's office on June 16, 2011.
Dr. Shutts's physician's assistant performed the
medical examination and write-up, which Dr. Shutts later
reviewed. Watson was having episodes of diarrhea and
occasional abdominal pain. The aunt was advised to limit
Watson's sugary drink intake and monitor his symptoms.
She was to return to the clinic if the symptoms worsened or
did not resolve or if new symptoms emerged.
Shutts's office would not see Watson again for more than
two months. On September 23, 2011, the aunt took one of
Watson's siblings in for a scheduled wellness visit. She
also brought along Watson. At the visit, the aunt asked Dr.
Shutts to examine a cut on Watson's head. The aunt
informed Dr. Shutts that Watson's uncle told her that
Watson had fallen in a bathtub. The uncle informed the aunt
that he had taken Watson to an emergency room, which had
applied New-Skin, a glue-like substance, to the cut. The aunt
did not know what emergency room they had visited. Dr. Shutts
checked with Highlands Regional Medical Center, which had no
record of a visit. Dr. Shutts did not believe Highlands ER
used New-Skin for such cuts. Moreover, the substance appeared
to be more akin to super glue than New-Skin. There are other
emergency rooms in Floyd County, though, and some physicians
would use the glue-like substance to close a wound, so Dr.
Shutts asked Watson's aunt to bring back Watson the next
week along with the ER records. Dr. Shutts stated the wound
was small, about an inch or less in size, and appeared to be
healing. Dr. Shutts was not suspicious that abuse was
occurring due to the small wound. Children routinely fall and
injure themselves, and she believed the explanation the aunt
gave was plausible.
died approximately a week later, before he ever returned to
Dr. Shutts for his follow-up visit. His uncle, who was later
convicted of murder and first-degree criminal abuse of a
child under the age of 12, would "punish" Watson by
making him walk around the couch with his hands up while the
uncle would punch Watson in the stomach. Though Watson had
injuries to other parts of his body, Watson died of multiple
blunt-force injuries to his abdomen. As the medical examiner
explained at the uncle's trial:
But basically, why he died was because of his injuries to his
abdomen. He bled into his abdomen and also the injuries to
the bowel can just cause a person just to go into shock and
die over time.
. . .
Basically, the cause of death is a hemoperitoneum. That means
a bleed into the abdomen due to, you know, due to - due to
blunt force injuries to the head, trunk, and extremities with
lacerations and ...