(CN) – A father whose 4-year-old son burned to death while strapped in a car seat cannot claim parental immunity from a damage claim filed by the child’s mother, a New Jersey appeals court ruled.
While driving with his son in the back seat, Jasford Wiggan allegedly heard “two bangs” and smelled smoke. He said the car “blew up in flames,” forcing him to pull over. He said he tried to pull his son, Joseph, from the car seat but couldn’t, so he ran to the side of the road and rolled to put out the fire on his body. When he returned to the car, Joseph was dead.
Investigators said the fire started under the driver’s seat, but could not pinpoint a cause.
The boy’s mother sued the father for damages, claiming ordinary negligence.
The lower court said Wiggan is entitled to parental immunity, because he tried to do what he thought was best for the child at the time.
But Judge Simonelli disagreed, saying Wiggan’s decision to leave his son in the smoke-filled car, strapped in a car seat with no way of escape, was not a “legitimate exercise of parental authority or supervision.”
“This was not a matter of customary child care, discipline or supervision,” Simonelli wrote. “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.”