As the weather warms up, people get outside more, often bringing their children with them wherever they go. Unfortunately, the hot summer months also see far too many needless tragedies, such as the death of a child left in a hot car.
Below, Schmidt Kramer talks about pediatric vehicular heatstroke, including how it occurs, how to prevent it and who may be liable. If another individual is responsible for harming your child, you may have a civil injury or wrongful death claim against that person for the damages.
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Why is it Dangerous to Leave a Child in a Hot Car for Even a Minute?
Even on cooler days, leaving a child who is six-years or younger alone and unattended in a car is illegal in Pennsylvania.
In warmer weather, however, when temperatures soar, leaving a child in a hot car can quickly turn into a deadly situation. It is critical to note that leaving a car window cracked on a hot day is not enough to protect your child against heatstroke.
In a recent case in Pennsylvania, an infant child died after being left unattended in his father’s minivan on a hot day.
What Happens to a Child When They Are Left in a Hot Car?
On a summer day that is 80 degrees or warmer, something very common in the northeast, a car that is closed up will get 20 degrees hotter in just 10 minutes. A child heats up faster in this situation because they have a smaller body, which also means they have a smaller surface area to help them cool down.
In a hot car, a child’s body temperature could reach 103 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, which can be deadly. The child or infant’s organs and brain swell in the heat, becoming impaired until they eventually stop functioning. Then their blood pressure will drop and the oxygen flow to their brain will slow until it comes to a stop.
Even if a child survives this ordeal, it could leave him or her with permanent damage.
Why Would Anyone Leave a Child in a Hot Car?
For many people, the idea that anyone would leave their child alone and in a hot car is unimaginable. Yet studies show that more than half of all pediatric hot car deaths occurred after a parent or caregiver forgot and left a child in a vehicle. Another 20 percent of the time, the adults who left a child in a hot car did so knowingly. Sometimes, young children may also gain access to an unlocked car on their own and without their parents’ knowledge.
More than half of all vehicular heatstroke deaths are children aged two years or younger.
Unfortunately, parents who leave their child in a hot car often think they will just be a quick minute. They may not want to disturb a sleeping child. Some parents may believe that leaving their child alone and unattended in a vehicle for “just a minute” will not cause them any harm. However, it is critical that parents and caregivers understand that leaving a young child or infant in a hot car for any length of time is dangerous.
Even a few minutes can be enough to cause your child to suffer serious consequences, including heatstroke. While running an errand or shopping, a parent may often take longer than expected. They might have trouble finding something or get into a conversation with another shopper – any number of things that could turn that “one minute” into 10 or 20 minutes or even longer.
Other individuals who may leave a child in a hot car include:
- Grandparent – especially one with early onset of dementia
- Romantic partner
- Daycare worker
While parents may have less control over what happens once they leave their child in someone else’s care, it is important to carefully consider who is capable of caring for your child. For instance, you may want your child to spend time with your aging parent. However, if that elderly parent also has some form of dementia, it could be a bad idea to leave them alone to care for your child.
Who Can Be Held Liable for the Injury or Death of a Child Left in a Hot Car?
If your child suffered harm after being left in a hot car by someone else, it may be possible to recover damages in a civil injury claim. This type of claim could include compensation for:
- Medical costs
- Emergency transportation to the hospital, such as an ambulance
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- And more
If the at-fault party was a professional, such as a nanny from an agency or a daycare worker, you may have a claim against both the individual and the business.
When pediatric vehicular heatstroke causes the death of a child, parents may have a wrongful death claim. In addition to medical costs, parents may be able to recover compensation for funeral costs, burial expenses and more.
Look Before You Lock – Steps You Can Take to Avoid a Tragedy
Parents are human and could unintentionally leave their child in a hot car if they are tired or stressed. However, there are some steps you can take to help make sure that does not happen, including:
- Leaving an item you need in the backseat: This could be your shoes, purse, phone – something you absolutely have to have with you during your workday – in the back seat.
- Putting a reminder in the front seat: For instance, a post-it note on your steering wheel reminding you to drop your child off at daycare.
- Setting an alarm on your phone: This could be an alarm for when you usually drop your child off.
- Installing a high-tech audio or visual alarm: One example is a sensor you attach to your child’s car seat that goes off if you are more than 15 feet away from your child.
What if I See a Child or Infant Alone in a Hot Car?
You should look around the immediate area for the vehicle owner. However, it is also important to contact 9-1-1.
Additionally, if you believe the child is in imminent danger, you can attempt a rescue while waiting for first responders to arrive. Thanks to a law signed into effect by Governor Tom Wolf in 2019, you are granted some legal immunity.
Need Help With an Injury Claim? Call Schmidt Kramer Today
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We have decades of experience representing injured victims, and we have recovered millions in compensation on their behalf.
Call today to discuss your situation and learn what legal options you may have. Our staff are available to take your call anytime, night or day, and your initial case review is completely cost and risk-free.
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