A law that takes effect Sunday, July 1, provides limited protection from civil liability — but none from criminal liability — for those who break vehicle windows to rescue people or pets in times of hot weather, says Shawnee County District Attorney Michael Kagay.
“I believe it is critical that the impact of this new law not be overstated,” he said in an email Friday.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on April 5 signed House Bill 2516, which had been approved in votes of 122-1 by the Kansas House and 40-1 by the Kansas Senate.
The law’s wording outlines the circumstances in which “a person who enters a motor vehicle, by force or otherwise, for the purpose of removing a vulnerable person or domestic animal is immune from civil liability for damage to the motor vehicle.”
Kagay said he wanted people to know that though a prosecutor may decline to file charges — based on the circumstances — against a “good Samaritan” who does that, that person wouldn’t be immune from prosecution and the prosecutor’s options would include filing charges.
“For example, criminal damage to property occurs when a person knowingly damages any property in which another has an interest without the consent of such other person,” Kagay said. “Intentionally breaking another’s car window without their consent, for good cause or not, would satisfy all of these elements.”
Kagay said people should also be aware of what the new law says regarding who or what can be rescued without incurring civil liability.
The law defines a vulnerable person as being a minor or “an adult whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for such adult’s own care or protection is impaired.”
The law describes a “domestic animal” as being a “dog, cat or other animal that is domesticated and may be kept as a household pet.”
That doesn’t include livestock, Kagay said.
He added that the limited civil immunity the new law provides applies only if the following circumstances are met:
• The person who enters the vehicle ensures that law enforcement is notified or calls 911 before entering the motor vehicle or immediately thereafter.
• The vehicle is locked or the domestic animal and/or vulnerable person is unable to exit without assistance.
• A good faith and reasonable belief exists, based on the circumstances, that the vulnerable person and/or domestic animal is in imminent danger.
• The force used to enter the vehicle is limited to what is necessary to remove the vulnerable person and/or domestic animal.
• The good Samaritan remains at the scene with the vulnerable person and/or domestic animal until law enforcement arrives.
“We should continue to encourage our neighbors to be mindful of the dangers of leaving vulnerable adults, minors or animals in unattended vehicles, especially during times of extreme weather,” Kagay said. “However, should a ‘good Samaritan’ be placed in a situation wherein they believe action is necessary, some protection may be offered by HB2516.”