TRENTON, N.J. - Good Samaritans in New Jersey who come across distressed animals or people in parked vehicles soon may no longer have to concern themselves with legal repercussions for stepping in to provide aid.
There are 23 states, including the Garden State, with laws that regulate leaving an animal in a parked vehicle. Rules in 24 states make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
Two bills halfway through the New Jersey statehouse would grant immunity to concerned citizens who break into a locked vehicle to save a person or pet from extreme temperatures. The bills do not specify temperatures or conditions in order for a person to act.
Assembly lawmakers unanimously approved one bill, A4079, to provide civil immunity for anyone who forcibly enters a vehicle to remove unattended and unsupervised children who might be at risk.
Rescuers, however, would first be required to take multiple steps before acting. The steps include determining there is no other “reasonable method” to remove the child and they must have already alerted emergency personnel.
“If a child is in immediate danger and the authorities have been notified, a good Samaritan should not have to be concerned with the cost of damages to the vehicle if they are trying to save a child’s life,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, said in a released statement.
Vehicles parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures between 131-172 degrees when outside temperatures range from 80-100 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Outside temperatures in the 60s can cause internal temps to rise above 110 degrees.
The immunity granted in Lampitt’s bill would not cover any person causing damage to the vehicle as a result of “recklessness or willful misconduct.”
The second Assembly-approved bill is intended to protect good Samaritans who act to save pets left inside vehicles.
New Jersey law already makes it illegal to leave an animal trapped in a vehicle but there is no immunity for people, including law enforcement, to break into the vehicle.
A3636 would revise state law to provide civil and criminal immunity for anyone who forcibly enters a vehicle to remove an animal under duress.
“If an animal is in danger and someone passing by is in a position to save its life, that person shouldn’t have to think twice because they’re worried about a lawsuit,” stated Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen.
Similar to the child rescue bill, the animal rescue bill would require a person to act only after reporting the circumstance to rescue personnel and after making a “reasonable effort” to locate the animal’s owner.
Both bills now move to the Senate for consideration.