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Is a child alone in a car always neglect?

I read an ABA article about a recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court which stated that, “‘Any allegation of child neglect in which the conduct of the parent or caretaker does not cause actual harm is fact-sensitive and must be resolved on a case-by-case basis,’ the supreme court said. Relevant circumstances include the distance between the woman’s vehicle and the store, her ability to keep the car in view, the length of time the child was unattended, the number of people and vehicles in the area, the ability to gain access to the interior of the car, and the temperature inside and outside the car, the court said.”

The facts in this case were that the mother left the child in a running vehicle with windows cracked for approximately 10 minutes with outside temperatures of 55 degrees. While each circumstance of a child left in a car unattended does have different facts, the truth is, it is extremely dangerous and can result in harm or even death. While leaving a child in a car unattended for any amount of time might not necessarily cause harm to the child, it could cause lasting legal consequences for the family involved simply because of the possibility of harm occurring.

The New Jersey court’s ruling has stated that not all incidents should be considered grossly negligent, but instead should look at all the circumstances around the incident. I’m sure given the same facts as above, but on a hot August day in Texas, the results could be vastly different and as such, should be handled differently. In any event, it is never good to leave a child unattended in a vehicle, running or not. The best thing to do is to always take your child(ren) with you into the store to protect your child from potential harm and the costly legal trail that could follow, even if you were found in a court to not be negligent.

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