Legal risks of saving children, pets from hot cars

Legal risks of saving children, pets from hot cars

Breaking into a hot car to rescue children or pets could get you in to trouble under certain laws. Some car owners have sued rescuers after their car was damaged.
Law enforcement encourages people to first call 9-1-1 when they see children and pets left alone in cars under extreme outdoor temperatures.
Law enforcement encourages people to first call 9-1-1 when they see children and pets left alone in cars under extreme outdoor temperatures.
Owners of cars broken into during rescue attempts can legally sue for damages, but law enforcement says it may not hold up in court unless the intent to steal or burglarize can be proven.
Owners of cars broken into during rescue attempts can legally sue for damages, but law enforcement says it may not hold up in court unless the intent to steal or burglarize can be proven.
"B & E or breaking and entering a motor vehicle is a felony.  The punishment would be determined by the court.  Breaking the glass of a vehicle can be nothing more than criminal mischief," said Houston County Sheriff’s Captain Antonio Gonzalez.

But what if you're trying to save a child or pet, left in a car in extremely hot weather?  He says not only are you committing a crime, the owner of the car can sue you for the damages.

"If the courts are willing to accept this suit, then it goes forward.  So anybody can be sued, for almost any reason nowadays on what they call their frivolous lawsuits," Gonzalez said.

He also says breaking into a car can injure both the victim and person attempting the rescue.  So, he says the first thing you should do is call 9-1-1, and leave it up to the trained professionals.

"We're going to try to do what we do best, and that's dealing with the situation with the information we have,” Gonzalez said.  “And if it means that we have to take it one step further for what's known as the welfare of that potential victim, we will break that glass.  We will go into that vehicle and take care of the situation."

He says it takes an average of three minutes for Houston County law enforcement to arrive at the scene.  So he doesn't recommend taking matters into your own hands.  But if you do, Alabama's Good Samaritan law could be on your side.

"Trying to do that right thing, there may be issues that occur that were unforeseen or unexpected or are unintentional. But then again, that opens the door for that individual to try to do what they want to do.  Nine times out of ten, the Good Samaritan law protects that individual.

While some say no good deed goes unpunished, others say they wouldn't mind paying a price for saving a life. 

Gonzalez also points out leaving a child or pet in a hot car is a crime in itself.  And he says since the law is clear in that regard, they will enforce it.

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