Dangers of Leaving a Child or Animal in a Hot Locked Car and What to Do If You See It

In Florida, the summer heat can be brutal. After a long day in the sun, the inside of your car becomes oven like.  Unfortunately, some people do not realize the significant heat that the inside of a car can reach, and negligently leave their children or animals in the car.

Dangers of Leaving a Child or Animal in a Hot Locked Car and What to Do If You See ItAccording to a study from Arizona State University and UC San Diego, in just one hour of being in the sun, the average cabin temperature of a car was 116 degrees, and the average temperature of a dashboard was 157 degrees. Even for cars that were parked in the shade, the average temperature of the main cabin was nearly 100 degrees. Most cases involving a child having a heat stroke while trapped in a car, show that the heat stroke was the result of a child’s core body temperature rising above 104 degrees for an extended period of time. The researchers in the study used data to show that a child trapped in a parked car in the sun could reach the temperature of a heat stroke within an hour, and when parked in the shade, could reach 104 degrees in just two hours. [1]

Since 1998 there have been over 800 pediatric deaths from vehicular heat stroke, averaging at 38 fatalities per year. Over half of these deaths were children under the age of 2.[2] All of these deaths were avoidable and should never have occurred. Earlier this month, a 9-month-old boy passed away after being left in a hot car for several hours in Pace, FL.[3]

What You Can Do in Florida if You See a Child or Animal Locked in a Hot Car

If you see a vulnerable person or animal locked in a hot car, you will not face criminal or civil prosecution in Florida by forcibly entering the vehicle to extricate the victim.  A vulnerable person is a minor or a person 18 years or older whose ability to perform daily activities is impaired due to mental, physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities.  Florida Statute § 768.139, enacted in 2016, provides that a person will be immune from civil liability if the person (1) determines that the car is locked or there is no reasonable method of escape, (2) has reasonable belief that entering the vehicle is necessary because the person or animal is in imminent danger, (3) ensures that law enforcement is notified before entering the vehicle, (4) uses no more than necessary force to remove the person or animal, and (5) remains with the person or animal in a safe location until law enforcement or first responders arrive.

Sometimes, individuals hesitate to take action to save lives because they feel as if they are committing a crime themselves. To combat this fear, Florida law encourages individuals to take the needed action to save the life to save the life of a child or animal without incurring legal liability.  If you do see a child, or a vulnerable adult or an animal locked in a hot car, it is essential that you follow the steps provided in Fla. Stat. § 768.139 for your own protection and, more importantly, to act quickly and decisively to save the life of a person or pet in eminent peril from the heat.

[1] Minton, Leslie, and Dianne Price. “Study: Hot Cars Can Hit Deadly Temperatures in as Little as One Hour.” ASU News, ASU News, 17 Sept. 2018, news.asu.edu/20180516-discoveries-asu-study-hot-cars-can-hit-deadly-temperatures-within-one-hour.

[2] “Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles.” No Heat Stroke, www.noheatstroke.org/legal.htm.

[3] Warren-Hicks, Colin. “Nine-Month-Old Baby Dies after Being Left in Hot Car for Several Hours in Pace, SRSO Says.” Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola News Journal, 14 June 2021, www.pnj.com/story/news/2021/06/14/florida-nine-month-old-hot-car-death-under-investigation-says-srso/7690184002/.