TOPEKA — The House Judiciary Committee gathered statistical and emotional appeals Monday for adoption of legislation protecting good Samaritans who break into vehicles to save overheating children and animals.
The bill would provide immunity from civil liability for damage to a vehicle when damaged by a person trying to aid a “vulnerable person or domestic animal” in situations in which there was “imminent danger of harm” and law enforcement had been notified.
Amber Andreasen, director of the national nonprofit KidsAndCars.org, said Kansas could fall in with 18 states that have passed good Samaritan laws and 10 states with similar legislation in the works.
“The importance of this bill lies not only in protecting citizens from liability,” she said, “but more importantly in ensuring that nobody is afraid to take action when a child’s life is at stake.”
Her friend, Stephanie Pinon, lost a daughter in a hot car in 2010. The police investigation showed two people walked past her van and saw the baby in the back seat but did nothing, she said.
The leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children is heatstroke, said Teresa Taylor, part of the Safe Kids Kansas coalition. She said the incidence of child vehicular heatstroke deaths were on the rise.
Kate Fields, chief executive officer with the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, said the threat of heat exposure and fatal hyperthermia necessitated action by states to lower inhibitions about breaking a car window in an emergency.
“Children and animals rely on us, as adults, to look after them and provide essentials to survive. Heatstroke happens in 15 minutes, leading to brain damage and death. It’s that quick,” Fields said.
Carla Lewis, an animal control officer in Leawood and president of the Kansas Animal Control Association, said many of her peers weren’t authorized to damage a vehicle to gain access to an animal. Some must obtain permission or wait until a law enforcement officer arrives at the scene, she said.
She said the bill could increase public awareness about dangers of leaving a child or pet in a car when temperatures were capable of creating a dangerous situation.
Greg Smith, who represents the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, said the bill’s definitions of vulnerable person and the description in the bill of signs of impairment could cause confusion. He also raised a question about unintended consequences of rescuing animals.
“The bill is silent on what will occur if the domestic animal is not appreciative of the rescue efforts and responds in an aggressive manner to the rescuer or simply runs off,” Smith said.