Family Sues Car Company After 14-Year-Old Dies in Locked Car

We hear a lot about babies and young children being locked in cars while their parents run errands or, in some cases, do other, more selfish things with their time. But last year, a 14-year-old girl died after her older brother left her napping in the family's BMW while he went to school. His intentions were good: he thought his little sister could get a little more shut-eye before classes began. In order to keep her safe, he locked the doors from the outside so that Graciela Martinez wouldn't be disturbed.

Her sibling didn't return to the car until 3 p.m. that day -- at which point he found Graciela pale and without a pulse. The teen died of "heat stroke and environmental hyperthermia" caused by being entrapped in a vehicle. And now her family is suing BMW for the young girl's death.

BMW has acknowledged that its 1997 328i model featured a "double locking mechanism" that made it impossible for passengers to unlock car doors from the inside. But the company admits it never thought about the possibility that someone would lock a passenger in from the outside.

On the day that Graciela died, temperatures in the vehicle reached over 100 degrees. Her family's lawyer says there is evidence that the teen tried to get out of the car and even break the window, but wasn't strong enough to do so. It's heartbreaking to think she lost her life while struggling so hard to survive.

Graciela's family is also suing the school district because they weren't called when the girl didn't show up for classes that day. I realize some people may roll their eyes upon hearing about two lawsuits, but in this case, I feel this family has every right to seek justice. Granted, it's odd that her brother would lock her in the car, but it seems short-sighted for the company to fail to consider the possibility that something like this could happen. It also rectified the problem and changed its design in 1999, so the next question is: were models made prior to that year recalled?

As far as suing the school district goes? I agree with Graciela's family and would question why I wasn't notified if my young teen skipped classes for the entire day and I didn't receive a phone call. It's sad to think this tragedy could have been avoided if family members were made aware of Graciela's no-show status just a few hours earlier.

Do you think this family has the right to sue BMW and the school district?


Image via JB/Flickr


accidents, cars, corporations, death, in the news


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AliPa... AliParker

I don't think her brother is odd for locking the doors. It was (what he thought) a safety precaution. In this case I think they have every right to sue. The car company knew about this and did nothing. They didn't think anyone would ever do something like this but obviously there are cases where people do. They can't just assume that they know everyone that buys their cars will never for any reason do something. And the school absolutely should have called the parents. This has been standard for years and years. If they had, the parents probably would have looked for her and asked her brother seeing as he was the one that drove her to school.

Mark Cox

maybe they have a reason to sue the car maker but suing the school just makes it look like cash grab..are they suing their son? he locked the door

nonmember avatar blue

Obviously, if the brother new he wouldn't have locked the door. It is NOT odd that he locked the door. It's a simple and common sense safety precaution. A 14 year old girl is perfectly capable of staying in a car and unlocking when she is ready....IF the door will unlock! I don't think the parents are out of bounds for suing he car company. I don't think the school district should be sued. Kids skip...a lot...they aren't panicked in a tizzy to notify parents every time that happens.

JS0512 JS0512

I think BMW deserves the lawsuit.  Not sure about the school.  My daughter is 13 and once our kids hit middle school the district policy is that they do not notify you of an unexcused absence until it has been three consecutive days (I don't agree with it at all...what if your child was abducted on the way to school...I wouldn't know she was missing until she didn't come home from school 8 hours later) 

aeneva aeneva

So the school is supposed to call EVERY parent of EVERY child who does not show up to school EVERY DAY?  Ridiculous IMHO that they are suing the school.

nonmember avatar Ellie

Yes, The school should have called. The school districts here call everyday if a student was absent from class. I hated it as a teen (of course) but now as a parent I appreciate it!

In this case, a phone call might have saved a life.

I feel the family is right to seek justice where they can.

jkp-buff jkp-buff

I don't understand what possible rationale the car company would have for designing door locks that you can't open from the inside. I can understand not being able to open the doors while the car is in motion. But there is no situation in which someone should not be able to open the doors from the inside while the car is turned off. I mean, they even designed a pull cord in the trunk so you could open the trunk from the inside. That was definitely a disaster waiting to happen. I feel bad for that poor brother who never imagined his sister wouldn't be able to get out of the car.

JessL... JessLogansMommy

aeneva , yes schools are supposed to call every parents of every child that does not show up every day.  They have an employed attendance person whose job that is.  Most people call the school and let them know that their child will not be in school cutting  the number that they have to call down significantly.  

LeeshaE LeeshaE

I graduated high school 10 years ago in a small city in Iowa and the school district had an automated system. If you didn't show up for a class an automated message was generated to your home. I don't see why this school doesn't have that. Or even the other day dealing with a sick kid, I spaced off calling him in and less than an hour into the school day I got a phone call. I agree with suing the school (if only to make a point to change their policy) and BMW.

RMT1995 RMT1995

Yes, the school should have called, BUT let's just say they did - they would have called the parents, not the brohter, who may have assumed she was cutting class or it was an error. There's no guarantee that they'd have contacted the brother. I understand the car lawsuit (you should be able to use a horn without the key in the ignition!!), but the school lawsuit I'm iffy on.

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