State v. Williams

4 Wash. App. 908, 484 P.2d 1167 (1971)



The concept of simple or ordinary negligence describes a failure to exercise the ordinary caution necessary to make out the defense of excusable homicide. Ordinary caution is the kind of caution that a man of reasonable prudence would exercise under the same or similar conditions. If, therefore, the conduct of a defendant, regardless of his ignorance, good intentions and good faith, fails to measure up to the conduct required of a man of reasonable prudence, he is guilty of ordinary negligence because of his failure to use ordinary caution. If such negligence proximately causes the death of the victim, a defendant is guilty of statutory manslaughter.


Defendants, husband and wife, found their baby ill. They did not realize how sick the baby was and thought that the baby only had a toothache. They have the baby aspirin in hopes that of improving its condition. They did not take the baby to a doctor because of fear that the Welfare Department would take the baby away from them. They knew that medical help was available because of previous experience. The trial court convicted defendants of manslaughter after finding that they were negligent by failing to provide their minor child with reasonably necessary medical attention. The appellate court affirmed.


Could defendants, husband and wife, who failed to realize how sick their baby was, be convicted of statutory manslaughter for not obtaining medical care for their baby who died because of the illness?




There was sufficient evidence that applying the standard of ordinary caution, i.e. the caution exercisable by a man of reasonable prudence under the same or similar conditions, defendants were sufficiently put on notice concerning the symptoms of the baby's illness and lack of improvement in the baby's apparent condition  to have required them to have obtained medical care for the child. The failure so to do was ordinary or simple negligence, and such negligence was sufficient to support a conviction of statutory manslaughter.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.