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A parent's timeliness in furnishing medical care to a minor child must be considered in terms of ordinary caution. The law does not mandatorily require that a doctor be called for a child at the first sign of any indisposition or illness. If one in the exercise of ordinary caution fails to recognize that his child's symptoms require medical attention, it cannot be said that the failure to obtain such medical attention is a breach of the duty owed.
Defendants Walter Williams and Bernice Williams, husband and wife, were charged by information filed Oct. 3, 1968 in Washington state court with the crime of manslaughter for negligently failing to supply their 17-month child with necessary medical attention; the child died on Sept. 12, 1968. Walter was a 24-year-old full-blooded Sheshont Indian with a sixth-grade education. His sole occupation was that of laborer. Bernice was a 20-year-old part Indian with an 11th grade education. At the time of the marriage, Bernice had two children, the younger of whom was a 14-month-old son. defendants both worked and the children were cared for by the 85-year-old mother of Walter. Walter assumed parental responsibility with Bernice to provide clothing, care and medical attention for the deceased child. The trial court convicted defendants of manslaughter after finding that they were negligent by failing to provide the deceased child with reasonably necessary medical attention even though defendants were ignorant as to the seriousness of the child's illness.
Were defendants properly convicted of manslaughter?
The appellate court affirmed defendants' convictions, holding that they were properly convicted of manslaughter even absent a finding that their misconduct was willful because defendants breached the statutory duty set forth in Wash. Rev. Code § 26.20.030 without lawful excuse or justification. The court held that, applying the standard of ordinary caution, defendants were put on sufficient notice of their child's illness to have required them to obtain medical care for the child, that their failure to do so was ordinary or simple negligence, and that such negligence was sufficient to support their manslaughter convictions.