In re R.S., 254 N.C. App. 678 (2017)

  • Facts: A one-month-old infant was brought to the hospital with a torn lingual frenulum (tissue connecting tongue to the floor of the mouth). Respondents denied any knowledge of the cause of the injury but confirmed they were the infant’s only caregivers. Two skeletal surveys were performed, and one showed healing fractures on 3 ribs and the right tibia. Respondents had no explanation for the injuries. DSS filed a petition alleging abuse and neglect and the child was adjudicated abused and neglected. Respondent father appealed on the ground that the court improperly shifted the burden of proof from DSS to respondents.
  • The findings of fact are supported by competent evidence and support a conclusion that the child was abused as defined by G.S. 7B-101(1). The court found the DSS experts were more credible than the respondent’s expert, and the expert testimony addressed the nature and causes of the injuries. The court found the injuries were inflicted by other than accidental means as they required significant force, could not be self-inflicted, and were not the result of a medical condition. The court further found these serious injuries occurred while the child was in respondents' care, as respondents were the only caretakers for the child; that the respondents had no explanation for the injuries; and that each respondent was jointly and individually responsible.
  • There was no improper shifting of the burden of proof. Where different inferences may be drawn from the evidence, the court determines which inference to draw. The findings support a reasonable inference that the child was injured by the respondents who were his only caretakers. The court’s finding that the parents were responsible by either directly causing or failing to prevent and thereby indirectly causing the injuries to the child is appropriate when the evidence showed the respondents were the sole caretakers of a pre-mobile infant who suffered serious and unexplained injuries.  
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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