Could You Face Charges For Forgetting Your Child In A Hot Car?

20 May 2017
 Categories: , Blog


There are public reminders every summer of the dangers that hot cars pose to children -- but the tragedies keep happening. In some cases, when a child dies in a car of heatstroke, it's considered a tragic accident. In other cases, the parent who left the child there ends up facing criminal charges. This is what you should know.

Heatstroke deaths remain steady over the years.

More than 700 children have died while buckled into the seats of parked cars since 1998. Constant campaigns to warn parents and other caregivers of the dangers and reminders to always check the back seat of the car when you park it for a sleeping child seem to have had little effect on the problem. An average of 37 children will still die of heatstroke each year after being trapped in an overheated car.

The reasons behind the deaths are also fairly constant.

A study of heatstroke deaths in cars concluded that the more than half of the time the child was simply forgotten -- usually after there's a shift in routine. For example, the mother normally takes the child to daycare but the father has to do it one day because the mother is sick. The father "zones out" during his morning drive and forgets about daycare. The child falls asleep and the father goes to work, not realizing he's left his child behind in the darkened backseat. Only about 17% of the children who died that way were intentionally left behind.

The official reaction to the deaths can greatly vary.

One analysis indicates that out of 500 hot-car deaths, only 60% of the parents or caregivers who left the children behind end up charged with a crime. Experts say that it is actually hard to predict what the outcome may be after an investigation concludes.

If a parent is charged, the charges can be something like felony endangerment of a child or even felony child abandonment -- both related essentially to the idea that the caregiver's negligence rose to a criminal level since the child died. 

If a stronger charge is used, it is most likely to be something like criminally negligent homicide. The idea behind the charge is that the parent had the capacity to care for the child properly and failed to do so in a way that amounts to a willful action. In other words, the parent could have done more to prevent the death simply by putting a note on the dashboard, checking the backseat, or taking some other step to keep focused on his or her responsibility that morning.

Parents are rarely charged outright with murder, although it does happen. A Georgia man was convicted recently of the 2014 murder of his 22-month-old son after the child was left in a sweltering SUV for 7 hours. In that case, there was evidence that he intended to kill his son so he could be free of family responsibilities.

If this sort of tragedy happens in your family, the caregiver needs to immediately seek legal help from a criminal defense attorney, like those found at, because of the possibility that he or she may face charges. For more information, contact an attorney today.