Civil Liability Protection
Rescuing Children and Pets from Locked, Unattended
A recent Arizona law provides limited legal protections for a person who breaks into a locked, unattended vehicle to rescue an endangered child or pet.
Seemingly every summer, we hear news accounts of Arizona
children and pets that, left in a parked vehicle by an irresponsible adult,
succumb to the summer heat. In recent years, such tragedies sparked debates
concerning the moral and legal duty of a passerby to rescue a trapped occupant
of a vehicle, and the passerby’s liability for property damage caused in
performing the rescue.
Those debates have been largely settled with the passage
of a 2017 Arizona law (A.R.S. § 12-558.02)
that, under certain circumstances, protects average citizens from liability for
acting on their own to rescue a minor or a domestic animal. (Under this law, a
“domestic animal” is defined as a cat, dog or other animal that is domesticated
and being kept as a pet. The definition does not include livestock.)
The new law allows a person to use “reasonable force” to
enter a locked, unattended motor vehicle and remove a confined minor child or a
domestic animal, if the following conditions are present:
1. The person has a good-faith belief that the confined child or pet is in
imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless removed from the
2. The person determines that the motor vehicle is locked, or there is no
reasonable manner (other than using force) for removing the child or pet.
3. Before entering the motor vehicle, the person notifies a peace officer,
emergency medical service provider or first responder (or, in the case of a pet,
an animal control enforcement agency).
4. The person does not use more force than is necessary under the circumstances
to enter the motor vehicle and remove the child or pet.
5. The person remains with the child or pet until the person or agency that is
contacted per step 3 above arrives at the motor vehicle.
Finally, the new law’s protection extends only to civil damage claims against
people who act within the provisions of the law, as described above. It does not
provide a legal claim for people who are injured in the process of rescuing a
child or pet, nor does it create legal protections that did not already exist
for injuries or claims stemming from incidents subsequent to the rescue.