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4-month-old's wrongful death civil trial begins

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Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 18:24:56-04

Testimony begins in the wrongful death civil lawsuit of Cash Bell on Tuesday in Douglas County District Court.  The 4-month-old died of abusive head trauma in March 2013 after a violent incident with his caregiver at his west Omaha home.

His caregiver, Sarah Cullen, was convicted in his death and sentenced to 70 years - life in prison in 2014.

The lawsuit claims that La Petite Academy and Grow With Me Daycare failed to disclose previous abuse of children by Cullen to police.  The Bell family found her on the website Care.com.

Jim Schaefer, an attorney not associated with the case, says that a civil trial is unlike a criminal case when there has to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

"They have to convince a judge and jury that the negligence involved in the cause of death was greater than any other factor in other words it's like 51-49%,” Schaefer explained.

The Bell's are asking for the defendants to pay for medical and funeral expenses plus they're seeking damages for pain and suffering.

Ashley Bell, Cash’s mother, who tearfully testified in the criminal case, told a jury Tuesday she did an extensive search to find a caregiver.  Bell said did a background check on Cullen which turned up nothing.

"I wanted to find out any pertinent information on anybody who was going to be around my son,” Ashley Bell described. “They touted this background check that they had; it was a big deal to me."

One and a half years after starting her care for Cash, Cullen is sentenced for violently shaking him to stop him from crying.

The defense argued Cullen apparently didn’t disclose that she had been fired from a previous daycare job because she was rough with children.

Text messages during the criminal trial revealed employees knew Cullen was being rough with children before she was hired by the Bells.  And under Cullen’s care, entered into exhibits in the criminal case, Cash started showing signs of abuse before his death.

Care.com was initially listed as a defendant in this case but was dismissed by the judge because they hired a 3rd party to do the background check.

La Petite Academy Director Lisa Hampson testified to an incident of alleged child abuse at the day care, and whether or not she felt it rose to the level of abuse.

The trial will last at least through the week.