Governor Signs California Right to Rescue Act

Monday, September 26, 2016

(Sacramento, CA) Over the weekend, Assembly Bill 797, the Right to Rescue Act, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The measure was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and The Humane Society of the United States, and jointly authored by the Majority Whip of the State Assembly, Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblymember Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga).

AB 797 protects citizens from liability for necessary actions taken in good faith to rescue an animal from a hot car. 

Every year, thousands of animals succumb to heatstroke in hot, unattended vehicles.  The facts are staggering:

-           Even on an 80° day, the temperature in a parked car can reach 120° in just 10 minutes.
-           On a 90° day, the interior temperature of a vehicle can rise as high as 150°.

Many concerned citizens come across animals who are left in vehicles during warm months and in need of rescue, but aren’t sure what to do and fear being sued and/or arrested if they take unauthorized steps to free an animal.  AB 797 allows a Good Samaritan to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal if specific conditions are met he/she follows various steps prior to entering a vehicle.  Those steps include:

  1. Check that the car cannot be opened.
  2. The animal must be suffering harm or in imminent danger.
  3. Contact law enforcement.
  4. Remain with animal in safe location until law enforcement arrives.
  5. Don’t use more force than necessary to rescue the animal.

According to AB 797, if these steps are followed, Good Samaritans would then be protected from criminal prosecution of liability for civil damages.

California law already makes it illegal to leave an animal unattended in a parked vehicle. State law has also long protected Good Samaritans who rescue children that have been left in vehicles. AB 797 follows legislation recently passed in other states (Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) by extending these provisions to people who rescue animals in a similar fashion.

"I am proud to be working on this bipartisan effort to end inhumane animal deaths,” stated Assemblymember Santiago. “As Assemblymember Steinorth and I both came to understand earlier this year, it is unbearable to sit in a hot car, especially for our pets. AB 797 allows Good Samaritans to safely and carefully rescue animals trapped in hot cars without fear of prosecution.”

“The Right to Rescue Act will save lives,” said Assemblymember Marc Steinorth. “In an emergency, good Samaritans should be confident that they won’t be sued for taking heroic actions to rescue a pet. We hope this never has to happen; this effort is also about spreading knowledge about the danger of hot cars, and that leaving your pet in harmful conditions is already illegal.”

“It’s been 10 years since California made it a crime to leave an animal unattended in a car when conditions are dangerous,” commented Senator Steve Glazer. “It’s time to give people protection from liability in trying to save an animal’s life.”

“Our strongest hope is that this legislation will raise awareness about the dangers of leaving animals unattended in hot vehicles. We know people don’t mean to put their animals in jeopardy, but they often don’t understand just how quickly the situation becomes dangerous and even deadly,” said Jennifer Fearing, who represents The Humane Society of the United States, the San Francisco SPCA and Best Friends Animal Society. “We are grateful that such a strong bi-partisan contingent of state lawmakers see fit to propose protections for Good Samaritans and to provide specific steps needed to assure those protections.”

“Every year, hundreds of animals suffer, and many die, in Los Angeles County from being left in hot vehicles. By the time a citizen spots an animal trapped in a hot vehicle the situation is often dire, and requires immediate action,” said Dan Felizzatto, Deputy District Attorney with Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office. “Because a call of this nature may not be a priority for law enforcement, peace officers may not respond in time. AB 797 provides a legal framework for a Good Samaritan to follow in order to remove an animal from a hot vehicle, without fear of legal repercussions. AB 797 will save lives.”

AB 797 will take effect on January 1, 2017.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago is the Majority Whip of the California State Assembly and sits on the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. He represents the 53rd District composed of the cities of Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and Vernon.