INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers who intentionally damage a car while attempting to rescue a child trapped inside will be protected from civil lawsuits under a state law that goes into effect today.
Public Law 132 grants “immunity” to so-called good Samaritans who step in to save a child from danger. It was passed with overwhelming support by both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Mike Pence in early May.
The law, authored by Rep. Philip GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, was crafted after Indiana lawmakers heard about a growing number of civil suits filed following rescue situations; people were suing others for the vehicular damage that occurred during the rescue, said Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield.
State legislators felt a need to protect those who stepped up to do the right thing, he said.
“It’s a common sense bill that will hopefully help prevent a problem that, unfortunately, comes up way too often,” Crider said.
The law protects good Samaritans in several events — the most common being when children are locked inside a car on a hot day.
The good Samaritan must be able to prove that forcibly entering the car was the only way to reach the child; they must contact emergency responders as soon as the situation allows; and they must aid the child until law enforcement arrives, the law stipulates.
“As long as the person believes (damaging the car) is the only way to help the child, and they do it in a reasonable way, they are protected,” Crider said.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he can’t recall a single civil case regarding a vehicle damaged when a good Samaritan saved a child in Hancock County. That might be because of Hancock County emergency crews’ speedy response time, particularly in cases involving children, he said.
“We have great law enforcement in our county,” Eaton said. “When a call like that comes in, they are there in minutes, and they handle it.”
Similar laws are in effect across the country; some even protect people who attempt to save trapped dogs.
Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said he was glad to see a law shielding those who act on their instincts to rescue someone in need of help.
“A lot of people aren’t going to worry about the car,” he said. “They are going to worry about the (child’s) life.”
An immediate call to police should always be the first step folks take in situations involving children trapped in cars, Jester said. But if it appears the child is in immediate danger, he encourages residents to use their best judgment.
“If it was me, and I looked into a car and could clearly see the child was in distress, I’d take a window out,” Jester said. “You have to make that decision, but you have to be able to defend it later.”
Quick actions are imperative in getting a child out of a car on a hot day. A few minutes can make the difference, officials said.
During the past decade in Hancock County, at least one child died after being left in a car during a summer day.
In July 2012 in Greenfield, an 18-year-old father left his 4-month-old daughter in the car, where she sweltered to death in the backseat. The father was convicted on felony neglect charges but served no jail time.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created a website, safercar.gov, which lists information about the effects heat has on a child. The agency also provides information about how to recognize heatstroke and advises parents to “look before you lock” as a way to insure they won’t forget their children are in the car.
The temperature inside a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes, the website states.
When the temperature outside reaches 60 degrees, the temperature inside a closed car can reach as high as 110 degrees, and death can occur when a child’s body temperature reaches 107 degrees, the website said.
Jester suggests parents and guardians never leave their children alone in a vehicle, even if they plan to be gone for only a few minutes.
Public Law 132 was the only good Samaritan law penned during the 2015 session, Crider said.