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To determine the rates of preventable mortality and inappropriate care, as well as the nature of treatment errors associated with pediatric traumatic deaths occurring in a rural state.Retrospective multidisciplinary consensus panel review of deaths attributed to mechanical trauma in children aged 18 years or less, occurring in Montana between October 1, 1989, and September 30, 1992. The care rendered in both preventable and nonpreventable cases was evaluated for appropriateness according to nationally accepted guidelines. Rates of pediatric preventable death and inappropriate care, as well as the nature of inappropriate care, were compared with that of the adult population.One hundred thirty-eight cases were reviewed. One death (less than 1%) was judged frankly preventable, 11 deaths (8%) were judged possibly preventable, giving a total preventability rate of 9% for all cases reviewed. Considering only in-hospital deaths (n = 77), the total preventability rate was 16%. The rate of inappropriate care rendered for all deaths, regardless of preventability, was 36%. The rate of inappropriate care in the prehospital phase was 16%; for in-hospital deaths, it was 47%. In the emergency department (ED), the rate was 36%, and in post-ED care, 22%. In comparison to the adult population, the rates of preventable death (9% vs. 14%) and inappropriate care in the hospital phase (64% vs. 66%) were lower. Inappropriate care for the pediatric group was more prevalent in patients less than or equal to 14 years old. The nature of inappropriate care was most frequently associated with the management of respiratory problems, including airway control and management of chest trauma.Preventable mortality from traumatic injuries in children in a rural state appears to be low, and lower than that reported for adult trauma victims in the same state. A preponderance of these preventable deaths occur in the subgroup of children less than or equal to 14 years if age. Inappropriate trauma care in children occurs frequently, particularly in the ED phase of care, and is primarily associated with the management of the airway and chest injuries. Education of ED primary care providers in basic principles of stabilization and initial treatment of the injured child 14 years old or younger may be the most effective method of reducing preventable trauma deaths in the rural setting.