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Hot Car Deaths, the Law, and a New Way to Prevent Them

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 26-Aug-2014

Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner

Picture of Salvatore J. Zambri

Over the years, we have posted multiple times about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars: 

Because this tragic situation has gathered more media attention, a number of states have enacted laws addressing leaving children in hot cars, and the NHTSA has initiated a campaign entitled "Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock."

Amid the record sweltering heat of this summer, national attention has increased on parents leaving their children alone in unbearably hot vehicles. According to a 2009 article in The Washington Post, 60 percent of these cases are ones borne of “negligence,” subjecting the wrong-doers to criminal charges. The ongoing re-occurrence of these cases has even led to individuals videotaping themselves engaging in the “hot car challenge” to demonstrate just how dangerous it is to leave a child there. As the Post noted in 2013, “43 children died from vehicle-induced heat stroke.” So far, in 2014, the number is at just under 20, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Almost all states in the United States have neglect laws that apply to these cases, and “19 states address it directly.” Prosecutors are granted discretion to determine whether there was malice or whether an accidental mistake occurred. The punishments for parents or guardians are varied, especially if the child survives, but some severe cases have recently earned media attention.

In the Atlanta, Georgia area, CNN has extensively covered a case, in which a father was charged this summer with felony murder after his son died in his car on June 18. In 2013, according to USA Today, an Arizona father left his son in a car for three hours – as he spent time at a bar – and the child’s resulting death led to convictions of manslaughter and child abuse for the father, who was sentenced to four years in prison. Obviously, this is a serious issue. 

New laws have been enacted providing guidance to bystanders if they see a child alone in a hot car. USA Today noted recently that in Tennessee, a new law “allows someone to break into a car to rescue a child if they believe the child is in imminent danger.” Meanwhile, at the federal level, there has been pressure applied to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to initiate federal research into technology to help parents remember not to leave kids in their cars. Foxx indicated recently he would embrace the NHTSA’s “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” campaign.

Beyond state legislation and federal initiatives, individuals can take steps to prevent these incidents. “Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense against these needless tragedies,” Acting Traffic Safety Administrator David Friedman stresses, “but everyone in the community has a role to play.” Though there are commonly referenced methods to avoid leaving a child in a car, a new method a Florida newspaper highlighted may be the most effective to date. “If you are driving a child,” Melanie Payne of The Fort Meyers News-Press writes, “after you put them in a back seat…put your left shoe back there, too.” After all, it is unlikely an individual would forget his or her shoe before exiting a car.

If this method helps you remember not to leave a child in a hot car, use it or design a memory device of your own.  Please keep your children safe.

About the author:

Mr. Zambri is a board-certified civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocates and a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. The association recently named him "Trial Lawyer of the Year" (2011).  Super Lawyers recently named him among the "Top Ten" lawyers in the Metro Area (out of more than 80,000 attorneys). He has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a "Big Gun" and among the "top 100" lawyers in the entire metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as "one of Washington’s best–most honest and effective lawyers" who specializes in personal injury matters, including automobile accident claims, premises liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and work-accident claims. He has successfully litigated multiple cases against truck and bus companies, the Washington Metropolitan Area transit Authority, and other automobile owners.  His law firm, in fact, has obtained the largest settlement ever in a personal injury case involving WMATA.  Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of "The Best Lawyers in America" by Best Lawyers (2014 edition) and has been repeatedly named a "Super Lawyer" by Super Lawyer magazine (2014) — national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.

If you have any questions about your legal rights, please email Mr. Zambri at szambri@reganfirm.com or call him at 202-822-1899.

 

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