Legislation that would provide lawsuit protections for people who break into a hot car to rescue a child or animal passed its first hurdle Thursday in the Arizona Legislature.
Republican Sen. John Kavanagh’s bill was approved unanimously after a hearing by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 1001 now heads to a Senate debate after a routine constitutional review.
The proposal got a shout-out from Gov. Doug Ducey in last week’s state of the state address.
“All it takes is a good Samaritan to save a life, to be on the lookout, see movement, take action, and stop another death,” Ducey said. “The last thing we’d want is any Arizonan worried about breaking into that car to save a life. Send me a bill protecting the good Samaritans who save the lives of children and pets — and I’ll sign it.”
Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said his bill’s protections require the person breaking in to have a reasonable belief that there is real danger, call authorities and wait for them to arrive.
“It simply gives liability from lawsuits for the damages that occur so long as the damages are reasonable,” he said. “Only reasonable force can be used.”
A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation said 527 children died from being left in hot cars between 1998 and 2011, an average of 38 a year. Many were inadvertently left in a vehicle by their caregivers. The report did not examine animal deaths.
Both circumstances are common in Arizona, where summertime temperatures can soar above 110 degrees and much more inside a closed vehicle. Death can come quickly from heatstroke.
Kavanagh provided no examples of people who were sued for damages after breaking into a car to save an animal or child.
But the Arizona Humane Society’s field operations manager testified Thursday that his group’s dispatchers can receive 10 to 15 calls about pets in hot cars a week.
“We are left helpless to do anything because under the current law only a law enforcement officer or an animal control officer can actually enter the vehicle to remove the animal,” Christopher West said. “So my emergency animal medical technicians are left standing beside the vehicle waiting for a police officer or an animal control officer to arrive, often 30 to 60 minutes later.”
Republican Sen. Bob Worsley voted for the bill, but raised concerns about what happens if someone mistakenly believes an animal is in danger.
“I could see a situation where there’s a dog in a car next to you and maybe the dog is not in distress and it’s just that the person’s inside for a minute,” he said. “And somebody breaks the window and creates damage and it’s a couple hundred bucks to the car owner.”