A bill introduced into the Texas Legislature this session seeks to protect pets left alone in hot cars and to shield their rescuers from civil liability for damages to the car.
The heat of a Texas summer is sweltering, and inside a car, it can be life-threatening. A parked car acts as a greenhouse, trapping heat and causing the temperature inside to rise quickly. On a sunny 70-degree day, a car can reach 104 degrees in only thirty minutes. After an hour, the temperature can reach 113 degrees. Dogs and cats are especially vulnerable to these high temperatures. While humans can release heat through sweating, this form of cooling down is not as effective in dogs and cats due to their fur, so they must instead rely on panting and grooming to stay cool.
Bill Would Protect Rescuers from Civil Liability…
The bill, H.B. 401, aims to protect animals from such dangerous situations by eliminating the fear of being sued that prevents many bystanders from intervening.
If passed, the bill would shield an individual from civil liability if they damage a car to save an animal trapped inside, but only if certain requirements are met. In order to be immune from liability, an individual must first determine that the car is locked and that the animal inside has no way of escaping. The individual must also have a reasonable and good-faith belief that entering the car is necessary to protect the animal from imminent harm and have already notified emergency services of the situation. No more force than necessary may be used to retrieve the animal, and a note with the rescuer’s information must be left on the car. The individual must also remain with the animal until emergency services arrives, staying in close proximity to the car, and surrender the animal to the animal’s owner or a first responder.
…And Impose Criminal Liability on the Animal’s Owner
A previous blog post discussed a similar law passed in Tennessee and described how an owner in Texas could be prosecuted under general animal-cruelty statutes for leaving their pets unattended in a parked car. H.B. 401 would specifically criminalize this behavior in Texas.
If the bill passes, it would be a Class C misdemeanor to intentionally or knowingly leave an animal in a car for more than five minutes unattended by a person over the age of 14 if the animal is exposed to harm, such as high temperature or poor ventilation. The bill would also make it a Class A misdemeanor to leave an animal unattended in a car if the animal would be exposed to life-threatening situations, such as extreme heat or cold without leaving the animal proper protection.
H.B. 401 has been left pending in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee as of April 17. If passed, Texas would join 23 other states that currently either prohibit leaving animals unattended in cars or provide immunity to those who rescue them.
 Jon Sutz, How Hot Can The Interior of a Car Get – And How Quickly?, HeatKills, Nov. 12, 2015.
 An Avoidable Tragedy: Dogs in Hot Cars, Animal Legal Defense Fund.
 Claire Z. Cardona, Could a Bill That Removes Liability for Breaking Into a Hot Car to Rescue a Child, Pet Save Lives?, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 2, 2016.
 TN Passes Good Samaritan Law to Save Dogs from Hot Cars, O’Connor’s Annotations, Aug. 15, 2015.
 H.B. 401, 85th Leg., R.S.
 Rebecca F. Wisch, Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles, Animal Legal & Historical Center, Michigan State University College of Law.