Are You Responsible if a Child is Injured After Being Left in a Car by a Parent?

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Update!

After talking with an insurance agent, I’ve made some changes in this article. The changes recommend that you do not have a policy about calling parents who are late.

We’ve all heard stories about children being injured or dying after being left alone in a hot car by their parents. It’s a tragedy.

In some cases parents have forgotten to drop their children off at their family child care provider and left the child in the car at their work site.

Some child care providers have addressed this issue by establishing a policy whereby they will call the parent if the child is not dropped off within 30 minutes of their regularly scheduled time.

A provider has told me that although this can be inconvenient for both provider and parent, she feels better knowing that her policy might help save a life.

She wondered, “Does having such a policy make me more liable if I don’t call and a child was injured?”

Would a provider protect herself if she added a policy that said the provider was not liable for any accidents occurring because the parent left her child in her car?

Who is Responsible?

Parents are responsible if they leave their child in a car.

The only situation where a provider could have some liability is if the provider knows the child is left alone in a car and does nothing about it.

This is because providers are mandated reporters of child neglect and abuse. Failing to notify the authorities (police) about a child at risk could cause the provider to lose her license.

But, in a situation where the provider does not know the child has been left in the car, the provider does not have any liability.

So, if the parent forgets to drop off her child at your home and leaves the child in the car at work, you are not responsible.

Should you have a policy to call parents?

No.

It doesn’t make sense to have a policy that says you will call the parent if they are late in dropping off their child. You don’t want to put language in your policy that requires you to contact parents if they are late. You don’t want to have a policy that says anything about calling parents if they are late.

The reason for this is that you don’t want parents to think that you are somehow responsible for them leaving their child in their car. If your policy says you are required to call and you don’t, then the parent is more likely to sue you for failing to follow your policies that resulted in their child’s death. Even if you policy only says you “may call” a parent who is late, this can still cause parents to think that you are somehow responsible, and this could lead to a lawsuit.

You can certainly call parents who are late. Just don’t put this in writing or make a verbal promise to parents that you will always call if they are late.

Some states require providers to contact parents if they are late. In these situations you are in trouble with licensing if you don’t call. But, parents may also be more likely to sue if their child is injured and you were in violation of a licensing rule.

Bottom line: don’t have a policy about this if you can.

In the end, you can best protect yourself against a parent lawsuit by purchasing adequate business liability insurance. If the parent does sue you, your insurance company will defend you. Here’s a link to my insurance directory.

Here’s an article you can pass on to parents about car safety from WebMD, “Danger: Kids Left in Hot Cars.”

Do not include a liability waiver in your policy. A parent cannot give up their right to sue you. If your policy states that parents can’t sue you, it will not be held up by a court.

Tom Copeland – www.tomcopelandblog.com

Thanks to insurance agent Debe Marofsky from Affiliated Insurance, Inc. for helping me understand why you should not have a policy on this issue.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ollycoffey/



Categories: Legal, Legal & Insurance

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