Protecting Yourself from Civil Liability When You Have to Break A Window to Save a Child or Dog

It seems every year as the temperatures rise we see reports of tragic accidents when pets or children are left in a hot car. Fortunately, the Kansas legislature passed a bill during this most recent legislative session which will immunize people from civil liability for damage done to a car in the process of rescuing an animal or vulnerable person. However, there are some things to know to make sure you comply with the law and ensure immunity.

First, this law applies to domestic animals, which includes dogs, cats or any other domesticated animal that may be kept as a pet, and vulnerable persons, which includes minors and adults whose ability to provide for their own care or protection is impaired.

Effective July 1, 2018, the new law provides immunity from civil liability for damage to a motor vehicle for a person who enters the vehicle, by force or otherwise, to remove a vulnerable person or domestic animal, if all of the following conditions are met.

(1) The person entering the vehicle determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the animal or person to get out of the vehicle without assistance.

This one seems pretty obvious, but check the doors before you start breaking windows.

(2) The person entering the vehicle has a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon known circumstances, that entry is necessary because the person or animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.

This one is subjective, but important. If someone leaves their pup in the car, with the air conditioner running, while they run into a convenience store, and the dogs looks pretty comfortable, it’s less likely that those circumstances are going to be found to form a reasonable belief of imminent danger.

(3) The person entering the vehicle ensures law enforcement is notified or calls 911 before or immediately after entering the vehicle.

In other words, you’re not Batman. Call the police.

(4) The person entering the vehicle uses no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the person or animal than necessary.

If you know some locksmith trick to get into the car without damage, do that. If not, and these other conditions are met, you can break a window or otherwise break into the car as long as you only use as much force as is necessary to rescue the person or animal. This law will not provide immunity if you take out their headlights for good measure.

(5) The person entering the vehicle remains with the vulnerable person or animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the vehicle until law enforcement or a first responder arrives.

Again, you’re not Batman. Don’t damage a vehicle to save a person or animal and then disappear. Stay where you are until police arrive.

Please, this summer, leave your pets at home when you're out and about and always remember to check your car before you leave it on a hot day. And if you see an animal or a child left in a vehicle, act appropriately and you just might save a life.

Danielle N. Davey is an attorney licensed to practice in state and federal courts in Kansas. If you have questions about this new law, call Danielle at 785-357-6311.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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