Family sues Clermont day care after baby's death

9-month-old died after being placed in car seat for nap

CLERMONT, Fla. – The family of a 9-month-old baby who was found unresponsive at a Clermont day care last summer and later died is suing the owners.

Tom Scolaro, the attorney representing the family of Zachary Jackson, filed the lawsuit against the day care owners, Debbie and Joseph Dodd, this week in Lake County.

Scolaro said the family wants accountability.

"What happened was an absolute tragedy," Scolaro said.

The family dropped off their son at Dodd Family day care in Clermont last July. Scolaro said that was the last time the family ever saw him alive.

"Through unimaginable negligence and conscious disregard for safety, their child is dead. That can't be lost on this," Scolaro said.

The complaint alleges how Zachary died, claiming Joseph Dodd put the baby in a car seat inside the home to take a nap and left him alone for at least an hour. Scolaro said the strap between the baby's legs on the car seat was defective and he was choked to death by the shoulder harness.

"That part of the bucket was not affixed, broken or otherwise not used by the Dodds, so, therefore, it's not in place," Scolaro said. "There's nothing really stopping the baby from slouching down and getting their neck caught in the shoulder harness that meets together at the chest level."

The lawsuit claims Joseph Dodd knew the car seat was defective.

"Based on the statements that he gave to the investigating detectives, it's our understanding from the statements that he knew the thing wasn't working properly because when he found the baby that part of the strap was not fixed and certainly a 9-month-old baby cannot unlatch it. It's physically impossible," Scolaro said. 

The lawsuit alleges the Dodds also put the baby in the car seat three weeks before his death. According to the complaint, the baby's mother told the day care owners "she immediately and insistently told the Dodds that she did not want Zachary to be placed in a car seat for nap time ever again."

The lawsuit states that the day care owners told Zachary's mother "she was assured by the Dodds that the unsafe practice would stop immediately. Unfortunately, they had lied to her."

In January, the State Attorney's Office announced it was not filing criminal charges against the Dodds.

"(The family) wants accountability. They want responsibility. They want to shut the Dodds down. They want to make sure that they never care for another child again, that no other parent has to endure the loss that they sustained," Scolaro said.

News 6 contacted the Dodds' attorney regarding the lawsuit, but he had no comment.

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