By Zachary D. Campbell, Lawyer at Metzger Wickersham
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Howard, holding that a person does not commit the crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Child (“EWOC”) by allowing a child to ride in a rideshare vehicle (i.e. Uber, Lyft) without a car seat.
It’s important to note that parents can still be found guilty of EWOC if there are other facts presented (i.e. the parent was aware that the driver had been driving unsafely). However, a defendant cannot be found guilty simply because a child was not in a car seat while riding in a rideshare vehicle even if the car later gets into an accident.
Commonwealth v. Howard
In the case of Commonwealth v. Howard, a mother was charged and convicted after she placed her three-year-old daughter in the back seat of a rideshare vehicle. According to the lower court’s decision, the child was not placed in a car seat and the vehicle was unfortunately involved in a crash. Additionally, no one in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt as well.
After the crash, the mother was charged with recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. At the trial, the mother was convicted by a judge on both counts based on her failure to secure her daughter in a car seat. The mother received one year of probation. She then appealed her conviction.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the lower court’s conviction of endangering the welfare of children. The Court found there was enough evidence presented that the mother placed her child in the vehicle for hire without any safety restraints. However, the Court found there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction of recklessly endangering another person. In reversing that conviction, the Court noted, “This Court is cognizant of the dangers that could result from a parent’s failure to utilize proper child passenger restraints for their children. However, while [the mother’s] actions (or lack thereof) were, as she admits, a serious mistake in judgement, we cannot conclude they rose to the level of criminal recklessness.”
The mother then appealed her Endangering the Welfare of a Child conviction to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In May 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the mother’s appeal and agreed to consider one single issue: “Was the evidence sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt, that [the mother] knowingly endangered the welfare of her daughter when she put her in the back seat of a car for hire without a seat belt or restraint system, and there is no indicia that the driver was driving unsafely?”
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s decision and overturned the mother’s endangering the welfare of her daughter’s conviction. The court rejected the lower court’s decision that the prosecutor only had to prove the mother was aware of her duty of care when taking her child for a ride in a rideshare vehicle. Instead, the court found the prosecution was required to prove that the mother was aware her conduct endangered the child’s welfare.
The court decided that the mother’s decision to allow her child to ride in a rideshare vehicle that was not equipped with a car seat, without other indicia of dangerousness, was not sufficient to put the mother on notice that her child’s welfare was being endangered. Ultimately, with several concurring opinions by other justices, the mother’s remaining conviction was thrown out.
One justice disagreed and argued that the mother’s failure to take any action to secure her child while riding in the rideshare vehicle was sufficient to support an endangering conviction.
Educate your family with rideshare safety tips to enjoy a smooth experience with Uber and Lyft!
If you are injured in a rideshare accident, consult with the attorneys at Metzger Wickersham to consider your options. We will answer your questions and provide legal advice during a no-cost case evaluation. Call us at (888)-286-2850 or email us to schedule your free consultation today.
Source: Commonwealth v. Howard, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Case Number 21-1048