Richard Hill, of Parma, Ohio, was found guilty of misdemeanor criminal damaging charges after he broke a car window in a Wal-Mart parking lot to free two dogs on a hot day in July. Hill will enter a diversion program to allow him eligibility for having the charge expunged after paying fines and restitution. Hill's attorney expressed some satisfaction with the case outcome.
Judge Timothy P. Gilligan, of the Parma Municipal Court, placed the guilty plea on hold amid the diversion program and called the incident “unfortunate.” The existing Good Samaritan laws in the jurisdiction generally prevent civil liability in these cases; however, it does not extend immunity to criminal charges.
“Hot Car” Legislation
The Ohio Senate Bill 215 is often referred to as the “hot car” bill, which allows for civil immunity among those who take actions to release a person or animal from a vehicle under extremely warm conditions. The provision allows people to use force to enter a locked vehicle when they consider the situation to be dangerous. Those taking such action are supposed to have made prior efforts to notify the local authorities. State Senator Sandra Williams is planning to sponsor an amendment to the law that may allow for criminal immunity as well.
When Hill encountered the vehicle with the dogs inside the air temperature was approximately 78 degrees. He claims that the larger of the two dogs was stepping on the other as it was barking for help and considered it to be an emergency situation. He brought a hammer from his work truck and broke a window to unlock the vehicle. In the meanwhile, another onlooker had called 911 and the police responded.
Dick Goddard, a now-retired meteorologist who spent years working for the local Fox affiliate, appeared in court with his daughter in support of Hill. Goodard was known for using his television news platform for efforts that advocated for animals. Goddard's daughter Kim spoke to cameras commending Hill for attempting to rescue the animals who are “voiceless” and “helpless” from a dangerous situation.
Bill 215 states that an individual may be shielded from civil liability that results from using force to enter a vehicle as long as they adhere to the following:
- Confirm that all doors are locked, thus no other means of removing the animal exists
- The party believes in “good faith” that the animal is faced with imminent danger if not promptly removed
- The party makes an effort to contact emergency responders before using force to enter
- Leave a written message on the windshield advising the owner of their contact information, location and that the local authorities were informed
- Keeps the animal in a safe place until authorities arrive
- Does not use significantly more force for vehicle entry than was needed based on the situation
Good Samaritan Doctrine
The traditional meaning of a Good Samaritan refers to someone who assists others (often strangers) in an unselfish manner. In a legal context, the term typically refers to one who voluntarily renders assistance to those facing an emergency such as an injury.
The legal doctrine allows for the party to be shielded from potential claims of civil liability for damages they may have caused in the process of offering assistance. The three common elements include that an emergency existed, the problem was not caused by the volunteer and care was provided in a manner that did not involve gross negligence or recklessness.