A Tennessee law went into effect on July 1, 2015 that allows citizens to break into a locked car to rescue a pet in distress without being held liable for damages.
Every summer, stories of pets left in a hot car populate news feeds and social media. A new law in Tennessee, the first of its kind in the nation, makes it easier for people to rescue a pet they find locked in a hot car. But before you break out that car window, there are steps that must be taken to protect yourself from liability for damage to the vehicle.
The “Good Samaritan Law” (Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-34-209) was enacted in 2014 to protect people from liability for damages to a motor vehicle when rescuing a child in danger. The law has been amended to extend that immunity to people rescuing pets.
Rep. David Hawk (R) of Greenville sponsored House Bill 537 after learning of a tragic situation in which passerby notified authorities of two dogs in a hot car, but by the time police arrived, one dog died and the other was terribly overheated. The bill passed the Tennessee legislature earlier this year and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on April 16, 2015.
A study published in Pediatrics found that on days when the temperature outside was 72 degrees, the internal vehicle temperature rose to 117 degrees within 60 minutes and that cracking the windows open made no difference.
Last month, a deputy with the Forsyth County Sheriff Office in Georgia volunteered to sit in a hot car to illustrate how quickly the temperature rises.
“The Sevierville Police Department is urging pet owners to be cognizant of the potential danger of leaving pets in vehicles during warm weather,” said Bob Sthlke, public information officer for the City of Sevierville, Tenn. “So far this summer, our officers have responded to eighteen calls from citizens where owners had left pets in their car. Fortunately, none of the animals appeared harmed and no arrests were made.”
If you see a pet in distress inside a hot car in Tennessee, you must meet all conditions (subparagraphs 1-6) of the statute below to ensure you are not held responsible for damages to the vehicle.
Text of Tennessee’s Good Samaritan Law – Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-34-209
(a) A person whose conduct conforms to the requirements of subsection (b) shall be immune from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a minor or an animal from the vehicle.
(b) Subsection (a) applies if the person:
(1) Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the minor or animal to exit the vehicle;
(2) Has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the minor or animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle and, based upon the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is a reasonable one;
(3) Has contacted either the local law enforcement agency, the fire department, or a 911 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle;
(4) Places a notice on the vehicle’s windshield with the person’s contact information, the reason the entry was made, the location of the minor or animal, and the fact that the authorities have been notified;
(5) Remains with the minor or animal in a safe location, out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle, until law enforcement, fire, or another emergency responder arrives; and
(6) Used no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the child or animal from the vehicle than was necessary under the circumstances.
(c) Nothing in this section shall affect the person’s civil liability if the person attempts to render aid to the minor or animal in addition to what is authorized by this section.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2015, the public welfare requiring it.
“The ASPCA strongly supports states giving law enforcement and Good Samaritans the ability to intervene to protect animals suffering in hot cars,” Chloe Waterman, senior manager of State Legislative Strategy for the ASPCA told the Huffington Post.
If you live outside Tennessee, become familiar with your local laws regarding rescuing pets in a hot car. The ASPCA recommends you call 911 and try to locate the owner if you see a pet inside a car on a hot day. The Animal Legal and Historical Center website maintains a searchable collection of animal laws by state.