Should parents be held liable for tragic/dangerous childrearing mistakes?

After hearing about that woman a month or so back whose children died from the heat after being left in her car in a parking lot, and now this about a mother being taken in after her two infants were noticed to have relatively severe sunburn at the county fair, I think the question needs to be asked: how legally responsible does a parent need to be held regarding the safety of his or her children?

Now, people who have been shown to be repeatedly neglegent are not what I want to talk about (I know the woman in the link was, I’m not sure about the other one). I want to know about people who make a mistake. There’s no exam to be a parent, and everybody makes mistakes.

I don’t burn that easily, and I rarely go out with sunscreen on. I could see someone not thinking it’d be a big deal, and getting his/her kids sunburnt. Kind of dumb in retrospect: absolutely. Blatantly obvious to every person who’s a parent: not so much.

I feel that there should be laws to protect children from abusive and neglegent behavior, but I also feel that accidents, even tragic ones, do happen, and sometimes people forget things, and sometimes people would never have thought of something, but this does not make them criminal.

Also, if parents are criminalised for bringing accidental physical harm to their children, what about mental and emotional harm?

One point I’d like to make - the sunburn issue - apparently the children (three of them, 2 infants, one toddler) all had 2nd degree sunburns - which include blisters. This, to me, brings it way out of the ‘oops’ category and into the ‘criminal’ category. Way before the blisters come out, the faces would be rosy, then red, the children would be in distress, their little bodies would be very, very warm. HOw stupid do you have to be in order to not notice that?

RE: your underlying question. Understanding that people do make mistakes doesn’t ‘disallow’ criminal prosecutions. For example, even if you had no reason to know that for you personally, 2 beers in a half hour = legally too drunk to drive, if you go over the legal limit, they don’t have a ‘learning curve’ established. I’ve known plenty of folks who thought “gee, as long as I’m personally not stealing it doesn’t matter that I"m hangin w/my pal who shoplifts”, they’ve got probation agents now…

And there’s plenty of examples of ‘bad things happening to children’ where no one was criminalized. Jessica falling into the well for example, kids running out into the street, or getting out and falling into the nearby pool/river/creek etc.

Things that have been criminalized are - leaving kids in a locked car on a hot day. Anyone who gets into a car after it’s been sitting in the sun should have some awareness that it’s at best uncomfortable. And leaving small children unattended is a bad idea. I have no problem w/that. NOr do I have a problem w/the sunburn lady (given the degree of burns - come on, you’re walking around w/your kids and they develop blisters on their faces??)

The one I wanted to see get arrested (by the time I phoned, the guy was gone) was the ijiot who had a toddler w/him while he was ice fishing on a small inland lake, where it’d been warm enough recently that there were pools of water on the lake.

wring beat me to it…

Accidents happen. You go to the toilet, and during that time your kid picks up a fork and sticks it in a power socket. You avert your eyes for a minute while you answer the phone, and your kid slams a door on her fingers. Despite all good intentions, its damn near impossible to watch your active children 24/7 and so the chances of your kids having an accident are there, no matter how minimal.

Its when neglect is involved in an accident that charges should be laid. This sunburn case was neglect, AFAIC. Of course, the problem then is who decides what is neglect.

Mistakes happen. My wife and I were careful, sober, loving parents. When our first daughter was a toddler, we put her little (old-fashioned) seat on top of the car at a gas station and drove off with her there. We only went a few feet, before realizing it, and she was fine.

Why did we do this? It was the middle of a long trip. We were hot, tired and distracted. That’s not an excuse, just a fact.

I suspect most parents have a story like this. It makes it hard to see that criminal penalties are appropriate.

the big difference december is that a momentary lapse happens to all of us.

However, in order for the damage to happen to those kids, it took hours of her walking them around in 95 degree temp w/o shade etc, while they became redder and redder, and blisters formed on their faces. And she was right there. That’s not a momentary lapse of judgement.

the felony has been reduced to a misdemeanor

Oh, geeze, December…I always thought the story about parents leaving their kid on top of the car was an urban legend.

Actually, it seems the medical team eventually stated it was only 1st dedree burns, and the charges have been dropped as a result.

the charges weren’t dropped, they were reduced- see my link above

Snopes says,

When my family was younger, we were in Houston, by a pool, in the blazing summer. My parents are conscientious, and not only that, my father is an MD and my mother is a nurse. Despite this, my little brother got second degree burns on his shoulders. He was, like the rest of us pale-skinned English people, looking a little pink. It was only after we’d gone indoors that the sunburn really started to rage and blister. They blamed themselves, but didn’t beat themselves up about it. I wouldn’t like to have seen them prosecuted for negligence. Mistakes happen.

Given the considerable lag between exposure & severe symptoms, I am inclined to cut the mom some slack. I once (and I mean only once) made the mistake of going skiing in on a bright, cold, dry, windy day, without sunscreen. I did not know how bad things were getting at the time, yet that night I had second degree burns on my cheeks from the combination of reflected sun and windburn. My cheeks soon turned to leather, and even opening my mouth to eat was painful. It was difficult to talk.

A friend of mine went to the beach with us once. This was a 25-year-old man in relatively good health (albeit a bit overweight) who wore a shirt and knee-length shorts. He wore socks and shoes for a bit, then finally took them off. He did not bother to put sunscreen on his arms or lower legs.

After only a couple of hours, he managed to contract second-degree burns on his lower legs. To this day you can see discoloration on some of the skin there. Amazingly enough, his arms hardly got burned, if at all.

Some people are just more suseptible to sunburn than others.