It’s extremely dangerous to leave children for any significant amount of time in a hot car. Even on cloudy days the sun’s heat can rapidly raise temperatures inside a car to unsafe levels. Each year an average of 37 children die from heat-related injuries after being left in hot cars. More suffer from heat stroke and other complications, which at a young age can have lasting consequences. Because of the risks, many states, including Nevada, have adopted laws that provide for criminal penalties for responsible adults who leave children unattended in cars.
Nevada’s unattended child law
Nevada’s “hot car” law was passed in 2005. It provides for criminal penalties for people who violate the law. It applies to parents, guardians, or other people who are responsible for a child who is seven years old or younger. It is a crime to knowingly and intentionally leave such a child unsupervised in a vehicle where “conditions present a significant risk to the health and safety of the child.” It is also unlawful to leave a child under the age of eight unattended in a car if it is running or if the keys are in the ignition.
The parameters of this law are in fact quite narrowly constructed. Whether someone can be criminally prosecuted for violating the law will depend on the state’s ability to prove a number of things:
- Intent. It isn’t enough that a parent or other responsible adult accidentally leaves a child in a hot car. The decision to leave the child in the car must be knowing and intentional. This gives an otherwise liable adult a potentially strong excuse that he or she simply forgot that the child was in the car. This brand of forgetfulness is more common than one would expect.
- Conditions were unsafe. This piece of the puzzle may be relatively straightforward: the outside temperature was over 100 degrees, the car was parked in the sun, and all the windows were rolled up. But if the car was parked under a large shade structure, perhaps the child was not particularly at risk. Note that risk involves more than just heat. Leaving a child unattended could increase chances of other kinds of injury and could expose the child to kidnappers.
- The child was unsupervised. If the responsible adult left the child in the car but was standing a short distance away within visual contact, a crime probably wasn’t committed at least with respect to the hot car law. However, the adult who ignores the risks of the hot car may have broken other laws, such as negligent supervision or child endangerment.
Pursuing civil action
Whether or not a crime was committed, parents of a child who is injured in a hot car may wish to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim against other adults who were responsible at the time of the incident. If the responsible adult was violating a law at the time of the event a plaintiff will have a relatively easy road to making a successful claim. A criminal conviction creates a presumption of liability in the civil context.
Why would someone wish to pursue a civil case in these cases? One reason is that criminal prosecution, even if it is successful, cannot grant the scope of damages that is available in civil trials. When a child is injured or killed a parent’s pain and suffering can be a significant component of damages, but pain and suffering is only available through a civil trial.
GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm
For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has prided itself on providing compassionate, personalized services to clients in personal injury cases. If your child has suffered an injury in a hot car and you would like to discuss your legal options, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.