No Punitive Damages in Wrongful Adoption Case

Even though an adoption agency apparently intentionally withheld information about severe mental illness among the parents and grandparents of a child from his adoptive family decades ago, it cannot be assessed punitive damages, a New York appeals court has decided. The ruling is expected to be persuasive in other such cases nationwide.

However, the agency, which is no longer in business, can be asked to pay the cost of caring for such a child, according to the court’s ruling. It was a common practice to withhold such information in the 1960s, when the child in this case was adopted, reports the AP. Although the boy had unusual behavior problems starting at age 4, it wasn’t until he was 9 that the agency provided some, but not all, information information that the family and his treating doctors needed, the article reports. He was eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a mental illness that also affected other family members and is now thought to have a genetic component.

In the 1960s, however, this was not understood by most mental health professionals. “The accepted belief at the time of the adoption in 1961 was that nurture played a greater role than nature in the development of mental disease,” says David Covey, a lawyer for the adoption agency. Disclosure of familial mental illness in adoptions has been legally required in New York since 1983.

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