Nearly 40 children die each year from being left in a hot car with seven deaths already reported prior to the start of summer. In hopes of preventing even a few of these deaths, Utah has adjusted their Good Samaritan law to give civil immunity to those who use force to remove a child from a vehicle.
Hot car deaths
Temperatures around Utah are soaring, some nearing the triple digits and the fear of children dying from being left in hot cars is increasing. One family in St. George Utah had a close call this month when the mother went into a Smith’s Marketplace to do some grocery shopping, forgetting her infant was with her in the car. Fortunately for her, a passerby in the parking lot heard the baby cry and removed the baby from the vehicle while awaiting medical personnel. The baby was visibly overheated and was taken to the hospital. Luckily, the infant is expected to make a full recover. The mother is facing charges for child abuse.
Safe child, broken window
Not only was this incident fortunate due to the passerby hearing the baby in time, but the Good Samaritan was also lucky they didn’t have to use force to obtain access to the car. Until recently, people who broke vehicle windows to rescue children from hot cars were protected from criminal charges, but then could have a civil suit filed against them by the car owner. Anyone looking to save a child from a heat related death would have to do so knowing their good deed could result in them being sued.
Civil immunity for Good Samaritans
No one should be punished for saving the life of a child and now Utah law protects Good Samaritan’s who step in the save a child from a hot car. HB152 which was put into effect early this month modifies the Good Samaritan Law to “[address] civil immunity for persons who use force to remove a confined child from a motor vehicle”. Utah Code 78B-4-501 states “A person who renders emergency care at or near the scene of, or during an emergency, gratuitously and in good faith, is not liable for any civil damages or penalties as a result of any act or omission by the person rendering the emergency care unless the person is grossly negligent or caused the emergency”. That section now adds: “A person who uses reasonable force to enter a locked and unattended motor vehicle to remove a confined child is not liable for damages in a civil action if all of the following apply:
(i) The person has a good faith belief that the confined child is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless the confined child is removed from the motor vehicle;
(ii) The person determines that the motor vehicle is locked and there is no reasonable manner in which the person can remove the confined child from the motor vehicle;
(iii) Before entering the motor vehicle, the person notifies a first responder of the confined child;
(iv) The person does not use more force than is necessary under the circumstances to enter the motor vehicle and remove the confined child from the vehicle; and
(v) The person remains with the child until a first responder arrives at the motor vehicle.”
That section warns “A person is not immune from civil liability under this Subsection if the person fails to abide by any of the provisions . . . or commits any unnecessary or malicious damage to the motor vehicle.” Additionally, Good Samaritans are only granted civil immunity for breaking into a car to save a child. This same law does not apply toward saving animals left in hot vehicles. Individuals who graciously save an animal from a vehicle could still end up facing civil charges if any damage is done to the vehicle during the rescue. For more information on Good Samaritan Laws, contact a credible attorney.