Original Post: June 5, 2019 | Updated: June 1, 2020
IF YOU CAME ACROSS A PARKED CAR WITH A CHILD OR ANIMAL LOCKED INSIDE…
You might be tempted to bust out a window to relieve the child or pet from the excruciating heat. (And if it's during a Louisiana summer, the heat would indeed be excruciating. See my video here where I experience it myself…)
Fortunately for kind-hearted people who want to help and for children and pets who can't fend for themselves, Louisiana law protects such good samaritans. In Louisiana, if you encounter a locked car with a pet or child in it, our laws do protect you from being held responsible for damaging the car by rescuing the child or animal.
But don't break out your baseball bat just yet. The law is actually very specific about when and how you can enter another vehicle to rescue a child or animal.
HERE'S WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO IF YOU COME ACROSS A LOCKED VEHICLE WITH A CHILD OR ANIMAL IN IT…
First, you have to make a reasonable attempt to find the vehicle's owner. “Reasonable” is of course very subjective. You might feel that if the child is visibly in distress (or worse, not apparently moving or breathing) a “reasonable” attempt might be a quick scan looking for a possible owner or a yell asking whose car it is. Of course if the child or animal is clearly fine and you feel like the situation permits, a quick run into the store where you are parked to have the owner paged over the loudspeaker might be “reasonable”.
If you cannot find the car's owner, then, you must notify the authorities (police, fire department, 911). They may tell you not to take action if they are close enough within reach to do it themselves. They may ask you some questions to determine how severe the threat is. But it is important that you notify the authorities before attempting to break into the car.
If they tell you to proceed, you must make sure the car is in fact locked with no other way for the child or animal to get out. Perhaps the child is old enough to unlock the door himself but is waiting for an adult to give him permission. Maybe just the passenger doors are locked but the driver's door is not
You also have to be of the belief that the child is in imminent danger of dying if not rescued immediately. Again, if the child or pet is clearly not in distress or their condition does not seem to be getting worse, it might be best to wait for the first responders to arrive.
If all of these conditions are met, then you can proceed with trying to enter the vehicle, but you must do it reasonably. In other words, breaking every single window of the vehicle is probably not necessary to get the child out. And though you may want to slash the car's tires just to be sure the owner learns his or her lesson, the court would most likely not uphold that as “reasonable”.
Once you have rescued the child or animal, you must leave a note on the vehicle's windshield with your contact information, reason for entering the vehicle, and location of the child or animal. You should also include that the authorities were notified.
You must then stay with the child or animal in a safe place out of the elements but as close to the car as possible while you wait for the authorities to arrive. Unless you are in a very remote location, this should not take all that long.
If you can't stay with the child or animal, you could notify the authorities that you are bringing it to the nearest hospital, police station, or animal shelter if it's a pet. Again, doing this might take longer than actually staying with the child or animal.
As with everything, there is always a but.
So here it is…
Yes, our laws protect you from being held responsible for damaging a person's property in order to save a child or animal, but it does not
PROTECT YOU FROM BEING RESPONSIBLE IF THE CHILD IS HURT DURING OR AFTER THE RESCUE WHILE IN YOUR “CARE”.
For this reason, unless I absolutely had no other option but to leave the scene, I would stay and wait for the authorities to arrive. If you were to be in a car wreck while transporting the child to the hospital, you could still be held responsible.
PROTECT YOU IF YOU ARE HURT IN THE RESCUE.
So for example, if you cut your leg while trying to climb through a broken window, you can't hold the owner of the car responsible for your own damages.
You might feel that these risks do not even come close to outweighing the risk of doing nothing. Nonetheless, you should know that doing that right thing can have consequences.