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Guardian
06-15-2011, 11:47 AM
I'm writing a scene now with a 17 year old character who was in a car accident with her dad. She's okay and assumes he is, too, but he died.

Her mother lives far away, and there are no other relatives of hers nearby. Would a doctor tell her personally what happened, or would he choose to wait for a guardian to arrive before breaking the news?

L.C. Blackwell
06-15-2011, 12:11 PM
At seventeen.... Hmn. I don't know for sure, and probably someone else does, but I'd say the hospital would probably a) call Child Protective Services, and b) involve its own in-house social worker, who would then make a determination as to what was appropriate. They wouldn't do it without having some kind of support staff available, and they'd most likely make every effort to get a family member there first.

Guardian
06-15-2011, 12:17 PM
What if the other family member is a plane trip away?

The way I'm handling it right now is that the doctor avoids her for a moment, and gets a local officer (who will escort her home) before telling her. But crap, that just doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem appropriate to delay the news, either, when even people from her town (like a friend) are a couple hours away from the hospital. Would they really wait a few hours before letting her find out?

L.C. Blackwell
06-15-2011, 12:24 PM
See, this is where it gets sticky, and this is where you need somebody besides me. Seventeen is under age. I can't tell you for sure--again, not an expert here--whether they'd temporarily release her to the custody of a family friend or not. I doubt very, very much they'd send her home to be by herself. Somebody has to come to the hospital, somebody has to take charge of her. She's not going to be dropped off by the local cop.

Ack! Jim, where are you? (Probably in bed and asleep, as I should be.)

Guardian
06-15-2011, 12:27 PM
Lol, I didn't think so. I'm just not sure what they would do with her. Tell her but make her stay? So maybe I should go get a bite to eat while I wait for someone who knows. The only time I dealt with death, I kinda was there for it, so no need to tell.

alleycat
06-15-2011, 12:32 PM
I suspect the doctor (or another staff member at the hospital) would first try to see if there is a relative or someone she can call (such as a priest). If they were told the mother lived far away, and there was no one else they could call, they might call the mother themselves and then let the mother tell the daughter over the phine. Or they might tell her outright, then help her to get in contact with her mother if she hasn't already.

Another possible alternate: Where I live, when there is an accident and the police have to go and inform someone of a death, the one who does it is often one of the police chaplains (there are two here, I believe). Since this is an auto accident involving a death and a minor, a police chaplain could be called to tell her the news and to stay with her until a relative or guardian could arrive. One of the mottos of the police chaplains here is "Never leave them in their grief." They will stay with a family until other support can be called.

Guardian
06-15-2011, 12:32 PM
My mother woke up, so I asked her.

She said if the person was 17, they'd probably tell her. They'd also maybe send in a grief counselor or just offer services or something to make sure she's okay, and have her stay while the other parent came. Like you said, L.C., they wouldn't let her go home alone.

Is that the correct scenario?


Another possible alternate: Where I live, when there is an accident and the police have to go and inform someone of a death, the one who does it is often one of the police chaplains (there are two here, I believe). Since this is an auto accident involving a death and a minor, a police chaplain could be called to tell her the news and to stay with her until a relative or guardian could arrive. One of the mottos of the police chaplains here is "Never leave them in their grief." They will stay with a family until other support can be called.

Thanks for the alternative, alleycat. I like the possibility of bringing in a police officer, because there could be a moment where she misunderstands why he's there (she had been drinking underage that night, but her dad was driving her home).

shaldna
06-15-2011, 01:14 PM
seventeen is a tricky age, so not sure if they would tell her directly or not. To be honest, they would probably try and wait until a parent or guardian was there and tell them first.

If there was no option of another parent or guardian, then usually there would be a family liason officer, or a social worker who would be present.

It's not always the police who tell people though. For instance, if the family were in the hospital then the doctors would tell them. If they weren't, and weren't aware of the accident, then the police would be sent to break the news.

As mentioned above, they would never be left alone afterwards.

alleycat
06-15-2011, 01:24 PM
You could have quite a range of plausible options in a story. The setting could have something to do with it as well (small town where everyone knows everyone/large city, small community hospital/large impersonal hospital, etc.). Grumpy old doctors have been known to do whatever they want to anyway (I have some experience with that).

If the character was 12, it would almost certainly be different, but a 17-year-old might very well be treated as an adult in the situation.

Guardian
06-15-2011, 01:31 PM
The setting is a very small town, so they had to be taken two hours away to the nearest hospital. (They have a local physician, but he's not equipped to handle the type of treatment her dad would have needed).

Right now I have the doctor getting her mother's phone number, and then asking her if anyone else could be called, and she says no. Then he leaves and has the chaplain come in to break the news.

alleycat
06-15-2011, 01:45 PM
Where I live is a regional medical center (many large hospitals and two medical schools). The scenario you describe of someone being brought in from a small town happens all the time.

I suspect most larger hospitals have someone on staff to deal with these types of situations; or for the police to handle the notification. Again, any number of ways could be plausible. For example, if you didn't want her to be told, you could have a hospital where the staff is rather distant and would think nothing of letting someone wait for two hours to be told her father is dead (heck, some hospitals will make someone wait two hours to SEE a doctor). Or you could have it so that there is some kindly person who takes the girl under her wing (so to speak) and tells the girl the truth even if it might break some petty rule.

Guardian
06-15-2011, 01:48 PM
Thanks for giving me some confirmation, alleycat. :) I know that ERs can take forever, especially at night.

For reference, the scene is finished and can be found here now: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=216692

I'd appreciate it if anyone wanted to check and make sure that it sounds legit. I made myself cry writing it. Phew!

alleycat
06-15-2011, 01:58 PM
I suspect what you have is fine (I haven't looked at it). If you need additional information let me know. I know some doctors, including one who is on call at the ER. He's kind of an oddball; he works part-time in one of the smaller, surrounding counties (almost working as a medic), but also has an office in Nashville.

Guardian
06-15-2011, 02:01 PM
Will do! Thanks a ton. Can I repay you in cat nip?

alleycat
06-15-2011, 02:11 PM
Just scratch my tummy.

We have some medical people who are members here; they might have better information.

You do have a range of choices in a story; probably half of the mystery stories, and 95% of the thriller stories, are not truly realistic. Not to mention science fictions stories with spaceships zooming across the known universe in 8 hours ("Warp speed, Mr. Sulu!").

Guardian
06-15-2011, 02:45 PM
My story is fantasy in that werewolves exist in the story. It's weird thought because they started at the forefront and now they are almost just background noise to the rest of the story. Other than that, I'm kind of a realist.

*scratches tummy*

shaldna
06-15-2011, 03:41 PM
There's also another aspect here - the fact that the mother is still around, admittedly a distance away. Given that girl is still a minor, they would proably wait until they had spoken to the mother before talking to the girl in case the mother sues, which she may well choose to do if the girl is a minor.

AmsterdamAssassin
06-15-2011, 04:18 PM
Thanks for giving me some confirmation, alleycat. :) I know that ERs can take forever, especially at night.

For reference, the scene is finished and can be found here now: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=216692

I'd appreciate it if anyone wanted to check and make sure that it sounds legit. I made myself cry writing it. Phew!

it came across as realistic, but I put some comments in the thread.

PinkAmy
06-15-2011, 05:38 PM
Are the parents married? If the parents are married they'd probably ask the mother what she wanted. If the parents weren't married, they wouldn't tell her about the father's death--or I should say legally they aren't allowed to tell her about the father's death due to HIPPA regulations (not sure if they would anyway.)
The doctors would probably tell the 17 year-old, absent of the mother saying not to tell her and if the mother was coming in several hours, because they aren't allowed to lie to patients. They can stall, saying he's being worked on or that he's in surgery if he died during surgery.
Since she has a mother, they aren't going to call Child Protective Services.

Guardian
06-16-2011, 12:13 AM
The parents are divorced, but the mother is the only other relative that they could contact. Perhaps they wouldn't tell the mother that her ex-husband is dead, but she would still be legally responsible for her daughter, wouldn't she?

VTwriter
06-16-2011, 08:22 PM
How does everyone know the girl is 17 years old? Are the doctors going to ask before passing on the news? There isn't an easy way to tell the difference between a 17-year-old girl (minor) and an 18-year-old girl (adult).

PinkAmy
06-16-2011, 11:02 PM
The parents are divorced, but the mother is the only other relative that they could contact. Perhaps they wouldn't tell the mother that her ex-husband is dead, but she would still be legally responsible for her daughter, wouldn't she?
Nope, they couldn't legally do to HIPPA laws, unless she was listed as next of kin. HIPPA doesn't die with the patient. She would be legally responsible for her daughter, but whether doctors could inform her is sticky. Legally they shouldn't, because it's not part of her daughter's care (even though she'll be upset about it.) If the parents remained close because the divorce was amicable, it's conceivable she could be his contact person/next of kin.

Guardian
06-16-2011, 11:31 PM
Okay, so now I know what to call it - next of kin.

ironmikezero
06-16-2011, 11:51 PM
Next adult next of kin... Death notifications to juveniles are dicey and are often addressed differently by various jurisdictions. But remember - any surviving family members who were involved in the incident/accident are also witnesses who must be interviewed in the course of the investigation. So, such notifications are inevitable.

I'd recommend contacting the appropriate law enforcement agency (public relations bureau or equivalent) and asking the hypothetical question.

Bear in mind that a 17-year old may legally be an adult in some jurisdictions (Louisiana, for example), and the notification may be made by the attending physician. Otherwise, the investigating officer will most certainly make the notification - and duly note the reaction. The subsequent interview would ensue as soon as possible. Of course, the wise investigator will demonstrate a modest degree of sensitivity during the interview and thus elicit the most comprehensive recollection possible. Any delay will only diminish the accuracy of the retained memories and compromise the investigation.

Guardian
06-16-2011, 11:58 PM
Thanks, ironmikezero. I meant an adult next of kin... I could list the ex-wife as the father's next of kin. I couldn't think of what the legal word thingies were.

Would the police want a statement from the girl? It was accidental, but I'm not sure what would happen in that case.

ironmikezero
06-17-2011, 12:26 AM
Thanks, ironmikezero. I meant an adult next of kin... I could list the ex-wife as the father's next of kin. I couldn't think of what the legal word thingies were.

Would the police want a statement from the girl? It was accidental, but I'm not sure what would happen in that case.

Absolutely! A witness is a witness. Age can be an issue as it relates to mental state, comprehension, and the ability to recall (firsthand) events. Traffic accidents involving death or injury are always investigated. There may be criminal issues; but, you can be assured there will be civil issues. We are a litigious society.

Guardian
06-17-2011, 12:41 AM
How long might they investigate before closing it?

I'll add some info of what they would find - the car would have been found with the girl knocked unconscious in the passenger seat, and her father critically injured behind the wheel. The girl might remember up to the moment of impact, but not the crash itself or seeing what happened to her father. He would have a drivers license on him. She had alcohol on her breath, but wasn't driving. That might give them a little more of a reason to poke around for a while. Would they perhaps suspect her of lashing out at her dad and causing the accident, so they would ask what was going on right before the crash?

ironmikezero
06-17-2011, 02:51 AM
OK, we'll need some basic info... Was another vehicle involved, or was this a single vehicle event? What physical evidence is available on the scene (skid marks, drag marks, impact debris, etc.)? The decedent would be subject to an autopsy and related tox-screening to determine his level of impairment - if any. Alcohol on the survivor's breath may subject her to further testing as well. As for suspecting that she may have had a direct contribution to the crash, some corroboration in the form of physical evidence would be needed (bruising/wounds on the decedent inconsistent with the trauma attributable to the vehicle damage, his skin cells under her fingernails, etc.). Even a voluntary confession must be corroborated or refuted.

A final note: Sometimes an accident isn't... Was he suicidal? Did he have any reason to deliberately expose her and himself to deadly harm? Is there any insurance? Who benefits?

A good investigator overlooks nothing.

Oops, almost forgot... The initial investigation could wrap up in less than a week - assuming full cooperation from all parties, absent any new leads or evidence.

Guardian
06-17-2011, 02:59 AM
Based on their economical status, I'd say that his daughter doesn't really stand to gain much of anything. She loved her dad, and I think anyone who knew him from work or such would be able to confirm he wasn't suicidal.

I think I'd have another vehicle involved. It might not be the other vehicle's fault exactly (I envisioned the crash as him accidentally drifting into the other lane, and the oncoming car not exactly preventing the collision. ) But the other vehicle fled from the scene of the accident. They aren't vital to the story itself, but that would give police something to chase, and could lend to the story later if they found out who was driving the other car somehow. (Rural area, there aren't any cameras but there could be witnesses later on, like someone seeing a car similar to what my MC remembers, with their front end damaged)

It's still open to wiggling room, but I think having another car involved... and having the driver caught later on ... will fit into my plot line well.

ironmikezero
06-17-2011, 03:36 AM
If another vehicle is involved but did not make contact (something like a near miss?) and left the scene, in most jurisdictions that may not constitute an articulated offense. Thus, it would not be pursued as a viable lead. OTOH, if there is a "stop, render aid" requirement (a variation on the "Good Samaritan" law) the other driver could be charged.

Worth noting is the sad fact that quite a few accidents are routinely caused by oblivious drivers who will never know that some foolish habit or moment of inattention was the critical tipping point on the scales of fate.

Guardian
06-17-2011, 03:48 AM
So if I had the two cars collide, even if the other car did not get much damage but caused the other car to lose control, would that constitute them being investigated?

ironmikezero
06-17-2011, 05:32 AM
Yes, contact can be argued to be the cause - and if the other car doesn't stick around subsequent departure constitutes "hit and run".

You could have a case of negligent homicide (or the equivalent charge in that jurisdiction).

Guardian
06-17-2011, 05:37 AM
Thanks for the help, iron! :) If I have more questions I'll come poking around again.

jaksen
06-17-2011, 05:37 AM
Another possibility is they would contact the school system, assuming she attends school in that city/town. They would contact her counselor or administrator and request information on her health form or in her files. They would then know who the 'emergency contact' is in her file. This person would be a relative, friend of the family or neighbor who has been judged (by the parent) to be a competent care-giver in the event of an emergency.

This person would be contacted and asked to come to the hospital, to stay with the girl until the mother would arrive.

I have known the above situation to occur in the event of a hit-and-run in which a person of the same age was brought to the hospital. The child in question had no ID (many kids carry no ID) and they asked teachers to come to the hospital to ID the student. (Child was unconscious.)

From there, they contacted the emergency contact. Remember, this person has been designated - by the parent or guardian - as the person to contact in the event the parent (or guardian) cannot be reached.

This information is kept by the school nurse or school administrators.

Different subject: I have even known of teachers, coaches, school principal, etc. who have gone to ID a child killed in an accident, when ID cannot be found on said child, and where witnesses do not know the child's identity.

Guardian
06-17-2011, 05:48 AM
All I can think of is how much that must suck for the teachers who have to go there and identify their student, especially if they've been killed. :(

jaksen
06-17-2011, 04:12 PM
All I can think of is how much that must suck for the teachers who have to go there and identify their student, especially if they've been killed. :(

What else can you do in such a situation? The student was on his bike on a busy street. The people in the area had no idea who he was. I am friends with one of the teachers who was called - at home, while making supper - to come to the hospital. She happened to be one of those teachers who know everyone in school as she was also a coach, an advisor, etc., etc.

She went and it was tough, but that's what being an adult is all about. Sometimes it's tough.

PinkAmy
06-17-2011, 08:58 PM
My understanding is that people rarely have to actually see or be in the room with the actual body any more. It can be done through photograph or digitally.

jaksen
06-18-2011, 05:01 PM
This happened in the mid-1990's.

My friend showed up at the hospital with a few yearbooks in hand, in case she recognized the face but didn't know the name. The school nurse accompanied her, also called at home. They ID'd the boy but couldn't reach anyone at the boy's home, so they used school records to locate the grandparents.

A similar incident happened recently, too, with a high school coach who was called because of the (sports team) jersey the boy was wearing. He was unconscious; she walked in and knew immediately who he was.

My point is this, school records are a rich source of information on a child. A parent/guardian has designated someone in those records to be contacted in the event the parents cannot be found, aren't answering their phone or reading voice mail, or are otherwise unreachable.