A Florida jury recently acquitted the driver of a daycare vehicle in the death of toddler. Jai’Nier Barnes, a 3-year-old child, was left in a hot van by a distracted worker of the In His Arms Christian Academy. The child was found about four hours after being left in the van.
Another worker, Louvenia Johnson, is still facing up to 30 years in prison. Johnson testified that when unloading the children, she was distracted and pled no contest to the charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child.
Child Hot Car Deaths
Sadly, it seems to be something we hear every spring and summer in climates where the temperatures creep up. A child is left in a vehicle by a daycare, parent, or other individual and dies due to hyperthermia. Although the name of the child always changes, the stories are all the same. Someone forgot the child and the result was an unnecessary death. This type of death is also one of the easiest to prevent.
We live in a world of distractions and vast responsibilities; however, these things are not an excuse or defense for leaving a child alone in a hot vehicle. When the temperature outside the vehicle reaches the 90s or even the 80s, the temperature inside the vehicle can climb 40 to 50 degrees more than the temperature outside. Its easy to understand how a child can go from perfectly healthy to dead in a very short amount of time.
Criminal Charges for Leaving a Child Unattended
The state of Florida has laws that say it is a crime to leave a child in a vehicle unattended if that vehicle is turned off. It is also a misdemeanor to leave a child in the vehicle for more than 15 minutes unattended. If the child suffers a permanent injury, bodily harm, or disfigurement from being left unattended, it is a felony offense. If the child appears to be in distress or if leaving the child in a vehicle unattended with the vehicle running puts the child’s health at risk, it is also a misdemeanor in the state of Florida.
Hot Vehicle Wrongful Death
When a child’s death is the direct result of the negligence of a day care provider, school, summer camp, or another party, the surviving parents of the deceased child can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party or business. Although a wrongful death lawsuit will not bring the child back, it can be a way for the parents to get justice for their child’s wrongful death.
The Florida Wrongful Death Act shifts the burden of loss by the surviving parents or guardian to the person responsible for the accident. If a wrongful death attorney representing the family can prove that the loss of the child was due to someone else’s negligence and wrongdoing, the law allows the survivors to receive compensation. Although compensation for the loss of a child can never fully be recovered, the law attempts to compensate the surviving parents to the extent possible under the law.
For most of us, the idea of leaving a child in a hot car is inconceivable. We can not imagine how such a thing could possibly happen. Unfortunately, it happens much more often than you might believe. If your child has been injured or died as a result of someone’s negligence, you should consult with a wrongful death attorney to help protect your rights.
Child Deaths Due to Hot Cars Not Uncommon
An average of 37 children die annually from being left in hot vehicles unattended. There have been over 685 deaths since 1998. It is a clearly a significant problem. While in some cases it happens as an accident, there are other times that the child’s death was intentional. The risk of a child getting forgotten inside the car is even greater for children and babies who fall asleep in their car seats.
Heat Related Injuries
Although some children are lucky enough to survive being left in a hot car, many are not as lucky. When children get too hot, it is known as hyperthermia, and they can suffer from heat cramps, dehydration, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat related illnesses include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dark-colored urine
- Pale, clammy skin
A heat stroke is when a child’s body temperature reaches over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. A child can die when his or her internal temperature reaches this point or higher, so the child should receive medical attention immediately.
- Temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
A child can suffer organ failure and brain damage due to heat-related illnesses. The organs and brain swell due to the heat, causing permanent damage that could affect the child the rest of his or her life.
First aid for heat related illness involves moving the child to a cool environment and having him or her lie down with feet elevated. Apply cool, wet cloths to help lower the body temperature and use cold compresses on the groin, armpits, and neck.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Florida law specifies different damages that surviving families may be able to receive in a wrongful death case of their child. As a general rule, monetary damages for the loss of companionship, mental pain and suffering, and funeral and medical expenses can be received. Although medical and funeral expenses are easy to determine, a wrongful death attorney and other experts will likely be necessary to determine the monetary values of the other damages.
Decreasing the Likelihood of Hot Car Deaths
Luckily, hyperthermia related accidents are preventable. It is important to take all possible steps to help prevent these types of accidents. Below are a few tips:
- Keep a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat and move it to the front seat of the vehicle when your child is in the car seat.
- Keep your purse, briefcase, or cell phone in the backseat of the vehicle near your child so you have to get in the backseat of your car when you stop the vehicle.
- Get into the habit of looking in the backseat after parking your car.
- Arrange for your child care provider to notify you if your child does not arrive at the normal time.
- Keep your vehicle locked so a child can not accidently climb into the vehicle and get trapped.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
If your child has been injured or died in a hot car incident, it is important to know your rights as the surviving parent or guardian. Florida laws outline specific rights that the survivors of the child have. An experienced wrongful death attorney can review your case and determine what the best case of action is. Call the wrongful death attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi and schedule a consultation today.