A California family is suing BMW North America after their 14-year-old daughter died of heat stroke while locked in a car from which she apparently could not escape.
The lawsuit, filed this week in Madera County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages and alleges Graciela Martinez died because she was locked in the family’s 1997 BMW 328i.
Graciela was driven to Madera High School by her brother Oscar on Sept. 11, 2013, according to a story from NBC News. Oscar left his sister in the car that morning to get some extra sleep because she didn't have to report to class for another hour. So she wouldn’t be disturbed, he locked the car from the outside before leaving. That was around 7 a.m. When the brother returned to the car that afternoon he found his sister unresponsive and covered in sweat in the backseat.
She was pronounced dead a short time after.
“An autopsy revealed that she had died of heat stroke and environmental hyperthermia due to vehicle entrapment,” the lawsuit reads.
The family is suing because the car’s “double-locking mechanism” prevents the car from being unlocked manually from the inside once it is locked from the outside. Without a key Graciela was also unable to use the car’s horn to signal for help. Such a mechanism, the lawsuit argues, was a safety hazard that caused the girl’s death.
The Fresno Bee reports the lawsuit also claims BMW "ignored and suppressed data regarding deaths and serious injuries due to the double-locking mechanism contained in the BMW 328i”
David Buchko, a spokesman for BMW North America, said he could not comment on the pending lawsuit, but he did say the locking mechanism was designed to address “a theft-prevention issue.”
“We didn’t envision the situation where someone would lock somebody in the car from the exterior,” he said.
Buchko added the locking system was changed in 1999, but that he was unaware of any complaints about the previous mechanism.
The lawsuit also names the Madera Unified School District, claiming the school failed to notify the girl’s parents that she had not reported to classes, as required by school policy.
School Superintendent Ed Gonzalez said that "the loss is incomprehensible. Our hearts go out to the Martinez family,” adding that he could not comment on the current litigation.
"She was a good kid and nearly a straight-A student," said Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian who is representing the family.
He added that if BMW had placed a safety-release lever inside the car, or even recalled the vehicle once the problem was discovered, Graciela’s death could have been prevented.