Citizens now allowed to rescue pets left in hot car

dog in carBy Candice Fitzgibbons

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 Greeneville 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.

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