Leaving child alone in a car is abuse, N.J. court rules

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that leaving a young child alone in the car is neglect or abuse. It doesn’t matter for how long or what the weather is like.

The idea is to better protect children from being kidnapped or harmed by excessive heat or cold, among other things.


“A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight, no matter how briefly,” Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote as part of the New Jersey Appeals Court ruling.

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Advocates for children in the Garden State such as Rush Russell agree — better safe than sorry.

“That’s just not healthy and positive parenting. We know that and making it a part of the code is probably a good idea,” said Russell, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey.

Under New Jersey law, a child is considered neglected or abused if he or she is younger than 18 and a parent or guardian fails to exercise a “minimum degree of care.”

In its 13-page decision, the court ruled it’s neglect when a parent is aware of a dangerous situation and doesn’t “adequately” supervise the child or “recklessly creates a risk of serious injury.”

Given how often parents duck into a store with a napping child still in the car, the ruling could have far-reaching consequences.

Donna Pressma, who heads the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, said the decision will help heighten awareness of what’s considered child abuse.

“For every parent of a newborn. Just as they know you need car seats, infant car seats, they need to be aware of the importance of making safe, good decisions about ever leaving children at any age in their car unattended,” said Pressma.

The court’s ruling stems from a 2009 incident when a woman, named “Eleanor” in the ruling, left her 19-month-old in the car for five or 10 minutes as she shopped at a dollar store. The child was unharmed, but when the mother returned, police had arrived.

In a statement, attorney Daniel N. Epstein, Eleanor’s lawyer, said he is “discussing the possibility of petitioning the Supreme Court” with his client.

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