Over the past few years, especially during the hot summer months, there has been a focus in the local media surrounding people who have broken into locked motor vehicles to save animals inside suffering from extreme heat. Indiana recently passed a law, to take effect July 1st, 2017, giving immunity to people who rescue domestic animals from these locked motor vehicles. Including Indiana, there are currently twenty-nine states that have some sort of “hot car” law, in which some sort of legal immunity is given to rescuers who break into cars to save trapped animals.
On summer days, the inside of a vehicle is often a lot warmer than the weather outside. This is because the trapped air inside is heated up by radiation from the sun. Studies have shown on an 80°F day, within ten minutes the inside of the car can reach up to 99°F. Slightly rolling down windows has also shown to have little cooling effect on the inside temperature of cars.
In Indiana, it is not illegal to leave domestic animals in motor vehicles, even in extreme weather conditions. In the past, those who broke into a motor vehicle to rescue an animal could face civil and even criminal charges for their actions. The only way to avoid charges and still save the animal in danger was to call the police and wait for them to take action.
While it is great news that animal rescue laws have been updated, the title of the law is slightly misleading, and someone who chooses to act by just scanning the headlines may find themselves in trouble.
To be in accordance with the law, a potential rescuer of an animal that they perceive to be in imminent danger from being locked in a vehicle will first have to see if the car is locked and then call or attempt to call emergency responders, use only the amount of force necessary to enter and remove the trapped animal, and finally remain with the animal until emergency responders arrive. However, even if someone follows all these rules, they will still be liable for half the cost of the repairs needed by their forced entry, unless the owner waives liability.
The new law also excludes many animals who are not considered domestic. These animals, classified as livestock, include rabbits, aquatic animals, beef cattle, swine, sheep, horses, mules, goats, birds, ostriches, emu, camels, llama, bison, and farm-raised deer, elk, and moose.
The only people immune from any sort of liability are law enforcement officers, firefighters, government officers or employees whose primary duty is to ensure public safety, emergency responders, animal control officers, licensed veterinarians in the state of Indiana, or veterinary assistants who are acting in the scope of their employment. All of these professions, minus law enforcement officers, are held liable though if they act while off duty.
If faced with a situation that where an animal is perceived to be in imminent danger and you don’t want to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal or are in a different state and are unsure of their rescue laws, the Humane Society recommends that you take down the car’s make, model, and license plate, go into nearby businesses and ask for management to make an announcement about the trapped animal, and then call local police.
Proposed IC 34-30-30.