HB 478 limits liability of those attempting to rescue children left in hot cars.
Effective September 1, 2017, Texas HB 478 limits the liability of an individual who attempted to rescue a “vulnerable individual” trapped in a hot car. With Texas leading the nation in hot car deaths, Texas lawmakers knew that something must be done. In Texas, 7 children died in hot cars in 2017 alone. This makes up almost half the total for the entire country, which is 15. Four children ranging from ages 7 months to 3 years died in hot cars in Texas in just the month of June. Florida came in second for the state with the most hot car deaths for 2017 with 2 deaths.
Pursuant to HB 478, a person who, by force or otherwise, enters a motor vehicle with the intention to remove a vulnerable individual from the vehicle is immune from civil liability for damages that may have resulted from the entry or removal. In other words, the rescuer cannot be sued for damages if they had a reasonable belief that entry into the vehicle was necessary to protect the vulnerable individual from imminent harm.
Vulnerable individuals include children, specifically those under the age of 7 years. This group would also include a person with physical or mental limitations. Even animals are classified as “vulnerable individuals” for purposes of HB 478. The rescuer is allowed to break into another person’s car “by any means necessary,” if they intended to rescue the vulnerable individual they reasonably believed to be in imminent danger. However, in order to be protected from liability under HB 478, certain requirements must be met, including:
- The care must have been locked;
- The rescuer must have acted in good faith;
- The rescuer must have believed the vulnerable individual to be in danger;
- The damage resulting from the rescue must not exceed what was reasonably necessary; and
- The rescuer must have called 911 prior to their rescue attempt.
If this law works to prevent even just one child from dying in a hot car, HB 478 will have been a success. The hot car deaths in Texas have been the result of a number of different circumstances, often resulting in parents facing criminal charges for things such as child endangerment. In times of tragedy, people all too often will point fingers. Rarely are things that simple. If you are facing criminal charges, contact the trusted criminal defense attorneys at Scott M. Brown & Associates by calling (281) 612-8241 or go online.