What do I do if I see an animal or child that is left unattended in a vehicle and appears to be suffering physical injury?
Arizona is well known for its excessive heat. The dangers resulting from leaving a child or animal unattended in a vehicle during the warmer seasons are well known. However, if you see a child or animal suffering from these dangers, what can you legally do about it? Importantly, if you see a child or animal left unattended in a vehicle, and that child or animal appears to be in danger, first thing you should always do is immediately call 911. Occasionally, more action may be needed, as it could be the difference between life and death.
What is the Arizona Law on this Issue?
Recently passed Arizona law protects a person from civil liability that breaks a car window to save a child or animal in certain circumstances. There are very specific legal provisions that must be met to avoid liability. Specifically, the law states that before breaking a window you must:
Believe in good faith that the child or animal is in immediate danger of suffering physical injury of death.
Ensure that all of the doors of the vehicle are locked and there is no other way to get the child or animal out of the vehicle.
Call 911 (or animal control) BEFORE breaking the car window.
Only use as much force as necessary to save the child or animal.
Remain with the child or animal until emergency personnel arrive.
As a practical matter, if you must break a window, make sure to break a window that is away from the child or pet. Sharp shards of glass could cause injury.
Criminal charges are very rarely filed in these circumstances, so long as the above criteria is met. However, in the instance criminal charges are filed, you should immediately seek legal counsel to understand you defenses to such charges.
The smartest thing you could do in a situation where you believe a child or animal is in danger because they have been left in a vehicle unattended is to immediately call 911 and follow the instructions of the 911 operator. However, knowing the law makes you that much more equipped to properly respond in an emergency situation while protecting yourself from liability.
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