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Chicago Attorneys Warn Parents: Never Leave Children Alone in Vehicles During Summer Heat

With high summer temperatures bringing many regions of the country heat and humidity, staying cool during these times is critical in order to prevent serious injury or damage to one’s health. Although we hear about incidents every year when the summers comes around, a personal injury attorney at our firm was surprised to read a report about a woman who recently left her child in her car while the temperature was ninety degrees outside.

Cbs.local.com reports that the ten-year-old girl was left unattended in the parked car outside of a grocery store while the driver went shopping. Police say that an officer checking to make sure the fire lanes in front of the store were clear spotted the car illegally parked in the fire lane. When the officer looked closer, he saw that the car was running and the little girl was inside. When he spoke with the girl, she told him she had been waiting there for a very long time.

The report states that the 25 year-old driver was later ticketed for leaving the girl in the vehicle while she went shopping. According to police, this had been the sixth time last week that someone had been charged with leaving a child, dog, or a combination of both in a car, sometimes with temperatures higher than ninety degrees and the car windows closed.

Thankfully this little girl was okay, but our lawyers want others to understand that leaving children unattended in or around vehicles is a serious problem, especially during the summertime. According to the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Safe Kids USA, children left unattended in hot cars, trucks, vans, and SUV’s account for 24% of fatalities. More than one thousand cases involving injury or death have been documented so far, most being caused by hyperthermia (heat stroke). The average number of U.S child hyperthermia fatalities per year since 1998 is 38, creating a total of 539 cases up until 2012. These fatalities occur under the circumstances of either a caregiving simply “forgetting” their child in their car, a child being left to play in an unattended vehicle, or a child intentionally being left in a vehicle. The ages of these children ranges from 5 days to 14 years old, but more than half of fatalities are children under 2 years of age. Only 18 states have laws prohibiting leaving a child unattended in a vehicle; thankfully, Illinois is one of them.

Many parents, caregivers, babysitters, or even bus drivers often fail to understand how hot the inside temperature of a vehicle can actually get. Keep in mind that a car is basically a metal box and can react to heat similar to the way an oven would. If it is 80 degrees outside, the temperature inside of the car can reach 115 degrees just after 20 minutes, and up to 135 degrees after 40 minutes, even if a window is cracked open in the car. This is especially true if the car is parked in direct sunlight. It only takes a matter of minutes to suffer damage to the body or die in these types of temperatures. A trauma surgeon at Children’s National Medical Center and president of the National Safe Kids USA Campaign states, “Heat rapidly overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate temperature. In a closed environment, the body can go into shock and circulation to vital organs will begin to fail.” This process happens even faster for children because their bodies are more sensitive to extreme heat. Children have died from heatstroke in a vehicle with outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees, also proving that vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly.

Based on the above information, we want to urge you to refrain from leaving your child unattended in a motor vehicle, even with the windows open or air conditioning running. Not only is heat stroke a possible threat during the summer time, but children may suffer injury from choking, accidently operating the vehicle, or being backed into by another car on the road. It is essential that everyone takes the appropriate steps to keep children safe this summer.

Our law firm represents individuals who have been seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents and are willing to assist you if you or someone you know has suffered personal injury, medical expenses, or property damage as a result of a negligent motorist. Please contact us to find out if legal recourse may be available to you.