Wisconsin's Hot Car Law Protects Those Who Break Windows to Save Kids & Pets

Jun 27, 2016

In Wisconsin, you are protected from civil liability should you break a window in someone else’s car to free a child, a vulnerable adult or an animal from the heat.

Gov. Walker signs Good Samaritan law co-authored by Kenosha Rep. Tod Ohnstad.
Credit Office of Rep. Tod Ohnstad

The Kenosha state lawmaker behind the Good Samaritan lawRepresentative Tod Ohnstad, says no one should be afraid to try to save a life because they think they might be sued. 

"I wonder whether or not in the 25 cases where children died last year, or hundreds, if not thousands of cases where pets died last year, whether or not people saw it happening but they didn’t think that was their business or their call or didn’t want to get in trouble damaging the property," Ohnstad says.

Under Wisconsin's Good Samaritan law, if you see a vulnerable person or a pet in a car you suspect is dangerously hot, your next steps are clear:

  1. Check to see if the doors are locked.
  2. If yes, look to see if an adult responsible for the child or pet is nearby.
  3. If no, call 911 and then try to break one of the windows in the vehicle.

If you follow these steps, you will not face civil liability.

When a child, vulnerable adult, or a pet is trapped in a car, Janette Fennell of Kids and Cars says every minute counts. Fennell says, "People need to think of a car as a greenhouse. There’s lots of glass in our vehicles and when we close that door it starts to heat up, and it heats up very, very quickly. In fact, you can have a twenty degree temperature rise in the first ten minutes."

Fennell says if a child is red or unresponsive, there's no time to lose.

PETA put together this video to show how quickly a car can heat up on a hot day:

Milwaukee Fire Department Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski says it's very important, however, to make that 911 call before breaking a window. Lipski says, "We can offer a three to five minute response time. Additionally, we can provide medical care for any children or people that would be stuck inside of a hot vehicle, so, we arrive with kind of an all hazard approach to solving the problem."

The Good Samaritan law passed in Wisconsin in November 2015 with bi-partisan support, and was supported by the Wisconsin chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Humane Society.