Louisiana summers are hot and humid. Suffocating. Temperatures in July and August regularly exceed 100 degrees, but the temperature inside a parked car is even higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the inside of a parked car can reach 130 to 172 degrees when the outdoor temperature is between 80 and 100 degrees. Cracking the windows or parking in the shade has little effect. Because it only takes 10 minutes for the interior temperature of a parked vehicle to rise 20 degrees, children and animals left alone for “just a few minutes” are at risk. On average, 37 children and hundreds of pets die of vehicular heat stroke each year. In an effort to address this problem, the Louisiana Legislature recently passed a law to encourage action.
The Legislature enacted two statutes to provide immunity from claims of property damage or trespass for any person causing damage to a motor vehicle while rescuing a minor or animal in distress. La. R.S. 37:1738 et seq. provides immunity if the person:
- Makes a good-faith attempt to locate the owner before entering the vehicle.
- Contacts local law enforcement, the fire department, or calls 911 before entering the vehicle.
- Determines that the vehicle is locked and has a good-faith belief that there are no other reasonable means for the minor or animal to be removed from the vehicle.
- Believes that removal of the minor or animal from the vehicle is necessary because the minor or animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.
- Uses force that was reasonably necessary under the circumstances to enter the vehicle.
- Places a notice on the windshield of the vehicle providing details of the person’s contact information, the reason entry was made, the location of the minor or animal, and notice that the proper authorities have been notified.
- Remains with the minor or animal in a safe location reasonably close to the vehicle until emergency responders arrive. If the person cannot remain with the minor or animal, the person must do the following:
- For a minor: notify local law enforcement, the fire department, or the 911 operator and take the minor to the closest police station or hospital.
- For an animal: notify local law enforcement, the fire department, animal control, or the 911 operator and take the animal to the closest shelter.
One wonders if a person reacting in an emergency will remember to leave a detailed note or to make the call before they act. If they do not, the immunity may be lost because immunity statutes are strictly construed in Louisiana. Also, the immunity does not apply to bodily injuries suffered by a minor during the rescue activities.
So, if you see a child or animal in danger in a hot car, the law now allows you to act with immunity, maybe.