BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



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          Date of Hearing:   August 23, 2016


                           ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY


                                  Mark Stone, Chair


          AB 797  
          (Steinorth) - As Amended August 1, 2016


                                   FOR CONCURRENCE


          SUBJECT:  MOTOR VEHICLES:  RESCUE OR PROVISION OF CARE FOR  
          ANIMAL:  CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY


          KEY ISSUE:  SHOULD a person who reasonably and in good faith  
          believes that an animal is in immediate danger if not removed  
          from a locked vehicle be immunized from civil and criminal  
          liability if he or she follows specified steps to forcibly gain  
          entry to the vehicle and rescue the animal?


                                      SYNOPSIS


          Despite existing law that prohibits pet owners from leaving an  
          animal unattended in a vehicle under dangerous conditions, and  
          despite public awareness campaigns warning against this  
          practice, proponents of this bill report that citizens continue  
          to call law enforcement hundreds of times per year to help  
          rescue animals from unattended vehicles because they believe are  
          endangered, usually because of hot temperatures inside.  These  
          proponents, including the Humane Society of the United States  
          and the Los Angeles County District Attorney, also contend that  








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          many of these callers express the desire to rescue the animals  
          themselves by breaking into the vehicle, but are deterred from  
          taking action due to fear of being sued or possibly arrested.   
          Indeed, while existing law does not prevent law enforcement and  
          emergency responders from forcibly entering a vehicle to rescue  
          an animal, a bystander who takes matters into his or her own  
          hands and breaks into a car to rescue an animal potentially  
          faces civil or criminal liability, depending on the  
          circumstances.  The goal of this bill--to encourage people to  
          take action to potentially save the life of an animal left  
          unattended in a vehicle and facing immediate danger-appears to  
          be in line with other measures passed by the Legislature in  
          recent years that provide immunity from liability for lay people  
          who voluntarily do something they are not obligated to do, such  
          as render medical aid in certain emergency situations, in order  
          to prevent death and injury.


          Accordingly, in order to encourage bystanders to rescue  
          endangered animals from vehicles and prevent unnecessary  
          suffering and death of animals, this bill seeks to establish  
          qualified immunity from civil and criminal liability for  
          property damage or trespass to a vehicle for any person who  
          reasonably and in good faith takes prescribed steps to rescue an  
          animal facing imminent danger from an unattended motor vehicle.   
          The specific steps outlined by this bill include, among other  
          things: (1) determining the vehicle is locked or that there is  
          otherwise no reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from  
          the vehicle; (2) contacting local law enforcement prior to  
          forcibly entering the vehicle; (3) using no more force than  
          necessary to enter the vehicle; and (4) immediately turning the  
          animal over to law enforcement personnel who respond to the  
          scene.  The civil and criminal immunity provided by this bill is  
          contingent upon all of the specified steps being followed, but  
          only extends to property damage or trespass to a vehicle, and  
          not more broadly to rendering aid to the animal itself or any  
          other liability that may arise.  The bill is opposed by groups  
          of dog owners, including the American Kennel Club and the  
          California Federation of Dog Clubs, who contend that rescuing  








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          animals should strictly be handled by law enforcement  
          responders, not Good Samaritans, and that the bill could have  
          unintended consequences.


          SUMMARY:  Exempts a person from civil and criminal liability for  
          property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle if the property  
          damage or trespass occurred while the person was rescuing an  
          animal under specified circumstances.  Specifically, this bill:   
           


          1)Provides that a person is not prevented from taking reasonable  
            steps that are necessary to remove an animal from a motor  
            vehicle if the person holds a reasonable belief that the  
            animal's safety is in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack  
            of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other  
            circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause  
            suffering, disability, or death to the animal.


          2)Provides that a person who removes an animal from a vehicle in  
            accordance with 1) above is not criminally liable for actions  
            taken reasonably and in good faith if the person does all of  
            the following:


             a)   Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise  
               no reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from the  
               vehicle.


             b)   Has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the  
               vehicle is necessary because the animal is in imminent  
               danger of suffering harm if it is not immediately removed  
               from the vehicle, and, based upon the circumstances known  
               to the person at the time, the belief is a reasonable one.










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             c)   Has contacted a local law enforcement agency, the fire  
               department, animal control, or the "911" emergency service  
               prior to forcibly entering the vehicle.


             d)   Remains with the animal in a safe location, out of the  
               elements but reasonably close to the vehicle, until a peace  
               officer, humane officer, animal control officer, or another  
               emergency responder arrives.


             e)   Used no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the  
               animal from the vehicle than was necessary under the  
               circumstances.


             f)   Immediately turns the animal over to a representative  
               from law enforcement, animal control, or another emergency  
               responder who responds to the scene.


          3)Provides that there shall not be any civil liability on the  
            part of, and no cause of action shall accrue against, a person  
            for property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle, if the  
            damage was caused while the person was rescuing an animal in  
            accordance with the provisions specified in 2) above.  Clarify  
            that this immunity from civil liability for property damage to  
            a motor vehicle does not affect a person's civil liability or  
            immunity from civil liability for rendering aid to an animal.


          4)Clarifies that firefighters are included among those public  
            officers that are authorized under existing law to follow  
            specified procedures to rescue an animal from a motor vehicle.




          EXISTING LAW:  








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          1)Prohibits a person from leaving or confining an animal in any  
            unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the  
            health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of  
            adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other  
            circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause  
            suffering, disability, or death to the animal.  (Penal Code  
            Section 597.7 (a).  All further references are to this code  
            unless otherwise stated.)


          2)Provides that a first conviction for violation of the above  
            rule is punishable by a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars  
            ($100) per animal, unless the animal suffers great bodily  
            injury, in which case the violation is punishable by a fine  
            not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), imprisonment in a  
            county jail not exceeding six months, or by both a fine and  
            imprisonment. Further provides that any subsequent violation  
            of this section, regardless of injury to the animal, is also  
            punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars  
            ($500), imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six  
            months, or by both a fine and imprisonment.  (Section 597.7  
            (b).)


          3)Provides that these provisions do not prevent any peace  
            officer, humane officer, or animal control officer from  
            following specified procedures to rescue an animal from a  
            motor vehicle.  (Section 597.7 (c).)


          FISCAL EFFECT:  As currently in print this bill is keyed  
          non-fiscal.


          COMMENTS:  This bill co-sponsored by the Humane Society of the  
          United States and the Los Angeles County District Attorney,  
          seeks to establish qualified immunity from civil and criminal  








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          liability for property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle for  
          any person who reasonably and in good faith takes prescribed  
          steps to rescue an animal facing imminent danger from an  
          unattended motor vehicle.  According to the author: 


               Leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle in harmful  
               conditions is currently against the law. Unfortunately,  
               many pet owners are unaware of how quickly temperatures  
               rise inside of a car, even on a mildly warm day. The  
               statistics are staggering: Even when it is 80 degrees  
               outside, a car can heat up to 99 degrees in just 10  
               minutes, and can reach 114 degrees in 30 minutes. [citation  
               omitted.]  


               Citizens call law enforcement hundreds of times per year to  
               report dogs stuck suffering in hot cars. Unfortunately,  
               these cases are not always the top priority of our law  
               enforcement, and they may not arrive in time to save the  
               animal's life - meanwhile, the Good Samaritan citizen is  
               left standing by, watching an animal suffer, scared to act  
               out of a legitimate fear for legal repercussions.  AB 797  
               establishes civil and criminal legal immunity for any  
               person who acts to rescue an animal facing imminent danger  
               while left unattended in a vehicle. . . (The bill) provides  
               legal assurance to Good Samaritan citizens that if they  
               take action to save an animal from a cruel, hot-car death,  
               they cannot be sued for rescue-related vehicle damages.


          Background on liability associated with unattended animals in  
          motor vehicles.  In 2006, the Legislature enacted SB 1806  
          (Figueroa), Ch. 431, Stats. 2006, which prohibits any person  
          from leaving or confining an animal in any unattended motor  
          vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being  
          of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or  
          lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could  
          reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death  








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          to the animal.  Under this statute, Penal Code Section 597.7, a  
          person who violates this law faces criminal penalties from up to  
          $100 for a first conviction if the animal does not suffer great  
          bodily injury, or up to $500 and six months' in county jail, or  
          both, if the animal does suffer great bodily injury.


          At the same time, SB 1806 created a framework for peace  
          officers, humane officers, and animal control officers to  
          legally remove an animal from a motor vehicle if the animal's  
          safety appears to be in immediate danger, as specified.  Under  
          Section 597.7, an officer is authorized to take all steps that  
          are reasonably necessary for the removal of an animal from a  
          motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, breaking into the  
          motor vehicle, after a reasonable effort to locate the owner or  
          other person responsible.  In addition, the officer must take  
          the animal to an animal shelter or other place of safekeeping,  
          or, if deemed necessary, to a veterinary hospital for treatment.  
           


          While SB 1806 initially authorized both civil and criminal  
          immunity, the bill was subsequently amended to remove the  
          immunity language.  Instead, the bill was amended to say that it  
          does not affect existing liabilities or immunities in current  
          law, or create any new immunities or liabilities.  (Section  
          597.7 (c)(5).)  Put another way, the legislation deliberately  
          sought to not affect existing liability or immunity from  
          liability for damaging a car to rescue an animal; for injury to  
          an animal being rescued; or for injury to another person caused  
          by the "rescued" animal after being freed from confinement in  
          the vehicle (e.g. an escaped dog at-large).  


          Background on immunity from liability under Good Samaritan laws.  
           Generally speaking, under California law, everyone is  
          responsible for the result of his or her willful acts, and for  
          an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary  
          care or skill in the management of his or her property or  








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          person.  (Civil Code Section 1714 (a).)  Existing law also  
          establishes that every person has a duty to abstain from  
          injuring the person or property of another, or infringing upon  
          any of his or her rights.  (Civil Code Section 1708.)  Case law  
          provides that an otherwise lawful act can become unlawful when  
          it causes damage to the property of another. (See Colton v.  
          Onderdonk (1886) 69 Cal. 155, 159.)  In general, if a voluntary  
          act, lawful in itself, may naturally result in the injury of  
          another, or in the violation of his or her legal rights, the  
          actor must see to it that such injury or violation does not  
          follow, or must expect to be liable for damages-regardless of  
          his or her motive or the degree of care with which he or she  
          performed the act.  (See McKenna v. Pacific E. R. Co. (1930) 104  
          Cal.App. 538, 542.) 


          Under existing common law tort rules, a person who voluntarily  
          comes to the aid of another person suffering a medical emergency  
          is immune from liability so long as that person acts in a  
          reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances.  In addition,  
          in 2009, California adopted a so-called "Good Samaritan" statute  
          which grants qualified immunity to any person who renders  
          medical or non-medical aid in an emergency, so long as that  
          person acts in good faith and not for compensation, and so long  
          as that person's conduct is not grossly negligent or willful or  
          wanton.  (Health & Safety Code Section 1799.102.)  Notably, this  
          statute applies to the rendering of "emergency medical or  
          non-medical care," which has never been interpreted to apply to  
          the rescue of an animal, rather than a human being.  


          In recent years this Committee has heard, and the Legislature  
          has enacted, legislation providing immunity from liability for  
          lay people who voluntarily render medical aid in certain  
          emergency situations, such as administering cardiopulmonary  
          resuscitation (CPR) or applying an automated external  
          defibrillator (AED).  In each of those cases, qualified immunity  
          from liability was approved in order to promote the policy goal  
          of encouraging bystanders to intervene in an emergency situation  








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          to render assistance and even save the life of another person.   
          In the same vein, this bill seeks similar qualified immunity to  
          encourage people to take action to potentially save the life of  
          an animal left unattended in a vehicle and facing immediate  
          danger.


          Anecdotal evidence indicates continuing need to encourage rescue  
          of animals from unattended vehicles.  Despite existing law that  
          prohibits leaving animals unattended in dangerous conditions,  
          and despite education campaigns warning against this practice,  
          proponents of this bill report that animals continue to be left  
          in unattended vehicles in alarming numbers. According to "My Dog  
          Is Cool," an organized campaign which seeks to educate citizens  
          about the dangers of hot-car animal deaths: (1) the Sacramento,  
          CA region reported receiving 50 calls to 9-1-1 about dogs left  
          in hot cars in June 2014; (2) the British Columbia SPCA reported  
          receiving 228 calls to rescue dogs that had been left in hot  
          cars in June 2014; and (3) the Davis County Animal Care and  
          Control in Salt Lake City, UT reported receiving 150 calls about  
          dogs being left in cars from June to Aug 2013.  (See  
          http://mydogiscool.com/newsroom/hot-car-incidents.)


          According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office  
          (LACDA), existing law should be updated to remove the fear of  
          liability as a deterrent against rescuing animals in unattended  
          vehicles from dangerous conditions.  They state:


               One of the most common questions our Animal Cruelty  
               Coordinator gets from members of the public is whether they  
               can legally make entry into a vehicle to save an animal.  
               When our office tells them that the law only allows law  
               enforcement and animal control officers to forcibly remove  
               an animal from a vehicle, most express frustration and say  
               they are often torn about what action, if any, to take when  
               they see an animal in a hot car.  As much as people would  
               like to help an animal trapped in a vehicle, they are often  








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               deterred from taking action due to fear of being sued  
               and/or arrested.


               In (one) tragic case, a bystander noticed a dog that had  
               collapsed on the floor of a locked vehicle on a warm summer  
               day.  The bystander called 911 and waited for emergency  
               service personnel to arrive.  As the bystander waited other  
               people gathered around the vehicle waiting for emergency  
               services to arrive.  As they waited, they watched as the  
               animal continued to suffer and eventually die.  The  
               bystanders told law enforcement that they considered  
               entering into the vehicle but decided against taking action  
               because they were afraid of being arrested or sued.


          Specified steps for receiving qualified immunity for rescuing an  
          animal from an unattended vehicle.  In order to further  
          encourage the rescue of animals in such circumstances, this bill  
          would authorize a person to take reasonable steps that are  
          necessary to remove an animal from a motor vehicle if the person  
          holds a reasonable belief that the animal's safety is in  
          immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation,  
          lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could  
          reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death  
          to the animal.


          In order to receive immunity from criminal and civil liability  
          under this bill, a person seeking to rescue an animal must  
          strictly follow specific steps identified by this bill prior to  
          entering the vehicle, including: 1) determine the vehicle is  
          locked or that there is otherwise no reasonable manner for the  
          animal to be removed from the vehicle; 2) have a good faith  
          belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because  
          the 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  
          reasonable; and 3) contact local law enforcement prior to  








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          forcibly entering the vehicle.  In addition, the person is  
          required: 4) to use no more force than necessary to enter the  
          vehicle and remove the animal from the vehicle; 5) to remain  
          with the animal at a safe location after gaining entry into the  
          vehicle, reasonably close to the vehicle, until an emergency  
          responder arrives; and 6) immediately turn the animal over to  
          law enforcement or other emergency responder who responds to the  
          scene.  


          If all of these steps are followed, the bill provides the  
          rescuing person immunity from civil liability for property  
          damage or trespass to the vehicle.  Importantly, however, the  
          bill is crafted to ensure that this qualified immunity does not  
          affect a person's civil liability for rendering aid to the  
          animal itself.  Thus, a person still has a duty to act  
          reasonably in rendering aid to the animal itself, or potentially  
          be held  liable for any injury or harm arising from rendering  
          such aid (as the bill only provides immunity for damage to the  
          vehicle.)


          The bill also provides immunity from criminal liability for  
          actions taken reasonably and in good faith if the person follows  
          the above specified steps in removing an animal from an  
          unattended vehicle.  According to the LACDA, a rescuer acting  
          reasonably and in good faith would lack the specific intent  
          which is an element of most crimes that could be charged against  
          a person for breaking into a vehicle.  However, there may be  
          some general intent crimes that could conceivably be charged.   
          While it is unlikely that a person acting in good faith to  
          rescue an animal would be charged with a crime or sued in any  
          case, this bill will remove the possibility by immunizing the  
          rescuer as long as he or she follows the steps set forth in the  
          bill.


          Other clarifying amendments.  The bill also makes clarifying  
          amendments to existing law outlining the responsibilities of law  








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          enforcement and other public officers in removing animals from a  
          motor vehicle.  First, the bill clarifies that firefighters and  
          other emergency responders are included among those public  
          officers that are authorized under existing law to follow  
          specified procedures to rescue an animal from a motor vehicle.   
          Second, the bill clarifies that certain responsibilities apply  
          not only when the official directly removes an animal from a  
          vehicle, but also when the official indirectly takes possession  
          of or receives an animal that has been removed from a vehicle by  
          another person.  Finally, the bill clarifies that the owner of  
          an animal removed from a vehicle may be required to pay for  
          charges that have accrued for the maintenance, care, medical  
          treatment, or impoundment of the animal after an emergency  
                                                           responder has taken the animal to a shelter or veterinary  
          hospital pursuant to this bill.


          ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT:  The bill is supported by a number of  
          animal welfare and advocacy groups, including the ASPCA, the  
          Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and the Humane  
          Society of the United States.  HSUS writes in support:


               (This bill) increases protection for animals but also  
               prevents vigilantism. Intervention is carefully defined and  
               kept as a last resort only to be used when all other  
               options have been exhausted and the animal is in visible  
               distress. This bill also spells out steps for after an  
               animal has been removed to ensure that emergency care is  
               provided and pets are returned to their owners  
               appropriately.  


               Every year, thousands of our companion animals succumb to  
               heatstroke in hot, unattended vehicles. Many times  
               concerned citizens and law enforcement can locate the car's  
               owner in time to take the necessary steps to keep the  
               animal safe. However, there are situations when concerned  
               citizens are unable to find the owner or law enforcement or  








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               animal control is tending to other priorities and can't  
               arrive in time to rescue the animal. And minutes do matter  
               when an animal is trapped in a hot car.  Protecting animals  
               from an agonizing death is a problem we can all agree to  
               prevent. AB 797 is an important, bi-partisan step toward  
               achieving a more humane California, and a chance to avoid  
               unnecessary animal suffering.


          ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION:  The bill is opposed by the American  
          Kennel Club (AKC), the Animal Council, and the California  
          Federation of Dog Clubs (CFODC), who contend that the bill could  
          result in unintended consequences.  CFODC states:

               When was the last time you left your dog supplied with food  
               and water in the car while you made a quick stop at the  
               market on a cool day?  There have already been many cases  
               where well-intended bystanders broke into a vehicle to  
               "rescue" a dog, alarmed simply because it may be exhibiting  
               normal, non-distressed behavior like panting or parking, or  
               may be safely confined in a crate.  A "rescuer" could put  
               himself at risk of being bitten, put the dog at risk of  
               being lost or hit by a car, and put the public at risk due  
               to an escaped dog-at-large.  The unfortunate owner could  
               find himself liable for unwarranted damages to his  
               property, suffering the loss of his pet and would have no  
               recourse for damage to the car or loss or death of his dog  
               in the course of the "rescue."  

               This bill is of particular concern to those who participate  
               in dog events and activities involving multiple dogs which  
               may spend time being responsibly housed in a motor home or  
               other vehicle.  Dog enthusiasts are highly aware of the  
               dangers of temperature extremes in vehicles, and are rarely  
               guilty of putting their valued animals at-risk in such  
               dangerous situations.  The CFODC believes that "rescue"  
               should be handled by professionals who, in the vast  
               majority of cases, can be on the scene within minutes, and  
               who are better prepared and equipped to deal with  








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               assessment and intervention in such situations.

          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:



          Support

          Humane Society of the United States (co-sponsor)


          Los Angeles County District Attorney (co-sponsor)


          ASPCA


          Best Friends Animal Society


          Civil Justice Association of California


          Councilmember David J. Toro, City of Colton


          Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association


          Marin Humane Society


          San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon


          San Diego County District Attorney's Office


          San Diego Humane Society








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          San Francisco SPCA


          Social Compassion in Legislation



          Opposition

          American Kennel Club


          California Federation of Dog Clubs


          The Animal Council




          Analysis Prepared by:Anthony Lew / JUD. / (916) 319-2334