Parents not to blame for child's death

The death of an Invercargill toddler who was trampled by a cow has led to a warning for parents to constantly supervise their young children.

Jack Xavier Tatham was almost 2 years old when he died in his parents' arms in Dunedin Hospital the day after a cow stood on his head at his parents' Waimatua farm near Invercargill in August last year.

Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar found neither jack's parents nor the doctors who tried to save him were to blame for the youngster's death from irreversible brain swelling and pressure.

Parents Jimmy and Kerry Tatham had taken Jack with them to the milking shed - something they did not usually do.

Jack, who was described as an active boy who could run and climb over gates, played in a puddle while his parents attended to some newly arrived cows in a pen next to the shed.

They then placed him in an enclosed room in the shed so he would be safe while they went about other tasks. He was was not far off and could hear Jack "nattering" to himself, but when he returned he found the room empty, Mr Tatham said.

He saw the cows were "spooked" and found his son lying on the concrete pad inside the fence with the cows.

Jack was unresponsive and clearly suffering from a head injury with swelling to his left eye.

An ambulance took Jack to Invercargill Hospital before he was transferred to the neurology ward at Dunedin Hospital. A doctor found his head had suffered a triangular bruise from a hoof print, grazes from the concrete, and skull fractures from compression between the hoof and concrete.

A neurosurgeon attempted to ease the swelling on his brain, but the procedure was abandoned due to complications.

Doctors concluded Jack could not survive his injuries and he died in his parents' arms the following day, August 24.

A pathologist found Jack was a well-nourished toddler with no evidence of any injuries other than the irreversible cranial swelling that caused his death.

While the parents were remiss for not actively supervising Jack the whole time, they had left him in a room where they knew he would be safe and were only seconds away from being able to stop him from entering the yard, Mr Crerar said.

"The tragic circumstances of the death do, however, serve as a lesson to all who have custody of vulnerable infants. A child who is unable to perform his, or her, own risk assessment needs to be constantly supervised by a responsible adult to ensure that no harm is created to them."

Mr Crerar recommended a copy of his findings be sent to Federated Farmers, requesting "appropriate publicity" to emphasise to its members the need to take all appropriate care when supervising children and infants in a farm environment.