Fatal Crashes in Lebanon Bring into Question the Born Alive Law

Lebanon has been the center of fatal crashes and challenges to current laws in the past month. On December 7, 2013, Amanda Murphy, 24 and her finance, Jason Timmons, 29, both from Wilder, Vermont where traveling in their 2005 Ford Escape on I-89 in Lebanon when they were hit by a 2005 Chevrolet Pickup truck driven by Robert Dellinger, age 53 of Sunapee. The truck went flying over the grassy median and into their vehicle. Both Amanda and Jason died in the crash, as well as Amanda’s unborn child. Amanda was eight months pregnant.

Robert Dellinger alleges that he was trying to commit suicide at the time. He is being charged with reckless manslaughter for the deaths of Amanda and Jason and those may be ungraded to negligent homicide but no charges were made for their unborn child. This has a lot of people wondering why.

In New Hampshire, the homicide statute clearly states that in order to be guilty of manslaughter or negligent homicide, a person must cause the death of another and “the meaning of "another'' does not include a foetus.” RSA 630:1 IV (2007). This statute was based upon the common law “born alive” rule. Under that rule, an unborn infant cannot be the subject of a homicide. In order to be a victim of a homicide, the infant would need to be born alive and survive independently from his or her mother before dying. This was further confirmed by a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in 2009 when it ruled that “a child is “born alive” when it has an existence separate and independent of the mother.” (See State v. Lamy 969 A.2d 451, 158 N.H. 511 (N.H. 2009) Under RSA 5-C: 10, hospitals and institutions must report every live birth to the vital records administration. For this purpose, live birth means “the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of the pregnancy, which, after such expulsion or extraction, breathes, or shows any other evidence life such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached.”

Representative Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, is proposing a bill to change this law in order to protect the rights of unborn fetuses, even though a similar bill had been vetoed by Governor Lynch a year ago. However, in light of other recent news from Lebanon, it might be time to seriously consider this issue.

This past Sunday, December 15th, Angelina Noggle, 19, of Lebanon, NH was driving a car which collided with a pickup truck driver by Robert Dupler, 51, of Grantsville. Angelina was nine months pregnant. At the hospital they were able to deliver her baby but she died. Her infant survived. The survival of an infant after a sudden and traumatic post-accident birth resulting in the loss of life to the mother is not uncommon.

At eight months of gestation, Amanda’s fetus would have been able to survive independent of the mother but never had the chance to be born alive due to the severity of the crash. This is why the Representative has proposed this new bill. This bill is very controversial because a lot of people feel that it would impact abortion rights. While this firm neither supports nor condemns abortion, I feel that these are two separate issues. Abortion of a fetus usually occurs early in the pregnancy when the fetus could not survive independently without the mother and to avoid intertwining these two issues, this bill might propose homicide charges for the death of a fetus past the gestational age when it would reasonably survive independently of the mother, usually in the last trimester of pregnancy. It will be interesting to follow this bill and see what the ultimate conclusion will be.

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Disclaimer: This article was written by a paralegal at the Injury Law Center and the views described herein are not representative of the entire firm nor does anything in this article constitute legal advice. If you require legal assistance with a wrongful death case, please contact an attorney.

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