No Parental Immunity for Father Who Failed to Rescue Son from Fatal Fire

Christopher J. Hanlon, Esq., a Personal Injury Attorney

A father’s failure to remove his child from a car before it burst into flames falls outside the exercise of child-rearing philosophy which the parental-immunity doctrine is intended to protect, a state New Jersey appeals could held.

The three-judge Appellate Division panel reinstated a dismissed wrongful death suit by the boy’s mother and ordered a new trial on whether the father’s actions were negligent.

“This case simply involves a father exposing his son to the risk of injury by not removing him from the car before the fire erupted,” Judge Marie Simonelli wrote for the court.

According to the opinion, Jasford Wiggin was driving his BMW on Route 78 in Springfield on June 17, 2004, when he smelled smoke, pulled onto the shoulder and got out to inspect his car, leaving his 4-year old son, Joseph, strapped in his car seat.  The car burst into flames a moment later.

Wiggan moved to dismiss the suit by the mother.

Superior Court Judge Marianne Espinosa granted the motion, saying the decision to leave the child in the car “falls within the area of circumstances where there should e no judicial intrusion upon his decision.”  On appeal, counsel argued that the decision by the boy’s father had nothing to do with providing for Joseph’s emotional or physical needs or fostering his well-being.

The Appellate Division agreed, citing that parental immunity is “abrogated to customary child care” but not where failure to supervise rises to the level of “willful or wanton misconduct.”

“This was not a matter of customary child care, discipline or supervision.  It had no connection whatsoever to any unique philosophy of child-rearing, nor was it designed to promote Joseph’s physical, moral, emotional and intellectual growth.”  For more information, please contact Christopher J. Hanlon, Esq. or Lauren Bercik, Esq. at 732-863-9900.

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