According to The Charlotte Observer, the boy died at a local hospital after being rushed there when the vehicle in which he was riding, driven by a 28-year-old family friend, blew through a red light and slammed into a pickup truck. The driver of that truck did not have a drivers’ license, and worse, the child was not properly secured by a child restraint seat or a seat belt. That’s according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. In fact, detectives on the scene didn’t locate a child seat anywhere in the vehicle.
Authorities had initially identified the driver as the child’s stepfather, but in fact the two were not related. The driver was originally charged with operating without a driver’s license, running a red light, reckless driving, and misdemeanor child abuse. The charge of involuntary manslaughter was later added after the boy died. Although alcohol and speed were not contributing factors, there is no question that this tragedy could have been prevented at a number of turns.
To start, this driver not having a license meant that he never should have been behind the wheel of that vehicle in the first place. It’s not clear who owned the vehicle, but if it was someone other than that driver, a liability lawsuit could be filed against the vehicle owner for negligent entrustment and possibly vicarious liability.
The fact that the driver was not licensed means that he probably wasn’t not covered by any form of auto insurance. He could be held personally liable, but it’s generally unlikely that drivers in this scenario have enough in valuable personal assets to make it worth pursuing a car accident lawsuit against the individual. If the child was supposed to be in the care and custody of someone other than the parents prior to leaving with the driver, it’s possible a claim could be filed for negligent supervision. That would depend heavily on the underlying individual circumstances.
If the vehicle was owned by another party, it’s possible that there could be coverage on the vehicle that would extend to the occupants as long as the driver had permission to be operating it.
Since this was not a drunk driving case, we wouldn’t pursue a dram shop law case, but we might look at the design of the road and whether there were any known flaws that government officials failed to address.
This child’s death may also have been prevented if the child had been situated in a child restraint seat, or at least protected by a seat belt. North Carolina law requires children under the age of eight (regardless of weight) or under 80 pounds (regardless of age) to use an appropriate child restraint system. The law does require that children stay in a child restraint or booster seat system until a seat belt fits properly on its own. The only exception to the law is in vehicles that only have lap belts available. In those cases, a child who weighs just 40 pounds can be restrained with a lap belt only. However, this is not considered a safe option and should only be used as a last resort.
An experienced wrongful death attorney can help families explore all of their legal options.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
6-year-old Charlotte wreck victim dies, driver charged with involuntary manslaughter, Feb. 2, 2017, By Joe Marusak, The Charlotte Observer
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