Understanding the Risk and Consequences of a Child Left Behind in a Hot Car

All teachers, camp counselors, baby-sitters, and caregivers understand that waiting in a hot car is not only uncomfortable, it is downright dangerous. Adults, children, pets, and others can quickly become overwhelmed by the intense heat that can concentrate inside a vehicle. That is, cars and trucks are largely constructed of metal and glass. When a vehicles doors and windows are shut, the windows can concentrate the sun’s rays in a fashion similar to that of a green house or terrarium. Furthermore, vehicles are often parked on asphalt – a thermally absorbent material that only exacerbates the  likelihood of high vehicle temperatures.

Unfortunately, sometimes caregivers can minimize this risk because they only expect to be gone “for a couple of minutes.” Then after a distraction or complication, they may glace at their watch or cell phone and realize that more than half an hour has elapsed. While it is relatively easy to make a mistake regarding a hot car, the consequences of such a mistake are often life-altering or deadly.

Mistakes by Caregivers Result in Heat-Stroke Deaths Every Year

Despite the dangers of rapidly escalating temperatures in cars, trucks, and vans this tragic mistake reoccurs in communities throughout the United States year after year. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stats, from 1998 to 2014, 636 children died due to heatstroke related injuries after being left unattended in a parked vehicle. In fact, the NHTSA states that heatstroke is the leading cause of death for non-crash fatalities in children aged 14 year or younger. While Texas, Florida, and California have the highest number of heat-stroke related deaths in children, sheer numbers do not tell the entire story. When adjusted on a per-capita basis, Arkansas and Nevada lead the nation in deaths due to heatstroke in children.

Children Are Especially Vulnerable to Heat-related Dangers

All people and pets are vulnerable to the risks presented by heat stroke when left in an unattended vehicle. Consider that even on a fairly comfortable 86 degree day, a vehicle left in direct sunlight will reach about 99 degrees in only 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, the temperature will reach nearly 110 degrees. After a full hour has elapsed, the vehicle will have heated to 123 degrees.  In fact, as a general rule caregivers should assume a 20 degree temperature increase will occur in 20 minutes.

The rapid temperature increase that can be realized in a parked, unattended vehicle poses a particular danger to children, however. In comparison to an adult, a child is less able to regulate his or her internal body temperature. In fact, a child’s body temperature increased roughly three to five times faster than that of an adult. Furthermore, an internal body temperature of 107 degrees or more is typically fatal to a child. As we have seen, an unattended car parked in direct sunlight can quickly reach temperatures that could result in a wrongful death.

Steps to Reduce the Likelihood of a Deadly Mistake Should Always be Taken

While this is an easy mistake to make, such an error is not inevitable or even likely if the caregiver has implemented and follows common-sense processes and procedures. For bus drivers and camp counselors, no journey in a van or bus is complete until the care giver has visually inspected the vehicle and confirmed that all children have exited. For baby-sitters and others who may use their personal vehicle to drive a child around, setting a reminder on one’s cell phone or placing an essential item next to the seat can help avoid a fatal error. And any individual who sees a child or pet in an unintended vehicle should take appropriate measures until the child reaches safety. This can include calling 911 for assistance. However temperatures can increase extremely rapidly so common sense regarding the danger, circumstances, and situation should always be employed.

Severe Injury Due to a Heat Stroke in A Car?

If you or a loved one has suffered a severe heat stroke injury due to a negligent caregiver or bus driver, Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak may be able to fight on your behalf. Our law firm fights to hold negligent and reckless individuals financially accountable for the deadly, tragic consequences their actions can have. To schedule a free  and private legal consultation, call (479) 316-0438 today or contact us online.