It is being called an epidemic. Some people say they do not understand how any parent could leave a child in a hot car, for minutes or hours at a time, while other parents, such as Sunny Hostin, Legal Analyst from CNN, are coming forward to admit that yes, they have been guilty of the same type of action bringing rise to his charges. Is it mere negligence or an intentional crime under this set of facts? Just yesterday, Justin Ross Harris was arrested and charged criminally for leaving his 22-month old son, Cooper, in a hot car, strapped to his rear-facing seat in Atlanta last week, when he went to work at a Home Depot corporate office. Allegations have been made that at some time during the day, he returned to that car to place something in the car, still not noticing the child in the back seat. Statistics show that 44 children died from vehicle-induced heat stroke in 2013 alone. Since 1998, about 450 children have suffered the same fate. Was Cooper’s death an accident or was it intentional? If it was an accident, should Justin Ross Harris be prosecuted? Unfortunately, although this does happen frequently, and quite honestly, from distraction and negligence, it is also possible that some children are being left in cars on purpose. As parents and good moral citizens, we cannot fathom why someone would do this intentionally to a helpless child. In order to be convicted of a crime, the prosecution will have to prove Justin Ross Harris intended to leave his child in the hot car. A witness to the Harris incident claimed Mr. Harris stated the baby had just “started choking”, although the witness could clearly see the child was not choking. The child had clearly been sweating as if he was in a swimming pool. It has also been alleged that the parking lot Mr. Harris pulled into after “discovering” his son’s body is a ten minute drive from where he works, leading credence to the charges of murder and child cruelty.
Supporters who allege that this type of “accident” just “happens” fail to consider how these tragedies can be prevented. One way to prevent them is to leave your purse or one of your shoes in the back seat with your child when you have them in the car. According to Safekids.org, 14 percent of parents have intentionally left their children in a parked car, while 11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car. Dads are nearly three times more likely than moms to leave a child in a parked car. Although some heatstroke deaths in cars are not caused by forgetting and just a lack of education as to how quickly a child can die, more than half of all these incidents are caused by the parent forgetting, being distracted or preoccupied, or even simply breaking a routine. Although we seldom hear of charges as serious as Justin Ross Harris is facing, parents suffer the consequences of the loss of their children. Can technology help? If you are transporting a child in your car, set an alarm on your phone to remind you that your child is in the car or write yourself a note and stick it on your front seat near something you know you will need when you arrive at your destination. Send yourself a quick email to your work before you get into the car. Remember to always look before you lock your car.
Many states have enacted laws on this issue, including Nebraska, when it passed the Child Protection Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-710, which allows a parent to be charged with child abuse or neglect if a child is placed in a situation that endangers his or her life or physical health or if they are left unattended in a motor vehicle at age six or younger. These types of laws can serve as a deterrent to intentional acts, however do not protect children from the negligence of a distracted parent. We, as a society, have to develop a plan to assist our community’s parents in avoiding any distraction that places their children in danger. If you have another idea as to how to help parents avoid these senseless tragedies, please leave a comment on Twitter using #NEVERLEFT or go to: facebook.com/neverleftinahotcar. Whether it is leaving something in the car to remind you or using technology as a reminder, there are ways to prevent the senseless tragedies that are killing our children.
A partner with Inserra & Kelley, Attorneys At Law since 1993, Craig Kelley focuses on personal injury law with a large emphasis on motorcycle and bicycle related cases and claims with the goal of first helping clients heal and then getting speedy resolution of their disputes.