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What you need to know about the Good Samaritan law to avoid getting in trouble

Posted at 5:22 PM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 18:48:18-04

Ohio’s Good Samaritan law, enacted exactly two years ago, is meant to protect people who break into a car to save a child or animal. But knowing the specifics could save you from getting in trouble when taking matters into your own hands.

The law is based on a person’s judgment — whether they truly believe a child or animal is in imminent danger. But that’s where the statute becomes subjective.

“You have to be able to prove the animal or child was in distress, and I think that’s where it gets tricky. What I might think is distress, somebody else might not,” Ayse Dunlap with the Cleveland Animal Protective League said. “So what is recommended is that you take pictures or video to justify why you believe that animal was in distress.”

The law passed in 2016, but there is no clear data available to indicate if anyone has ever actually broken a window to rescue a child or animal — until this week.

Richard Hill, a Cleveland man, thought he was being a Good Samaritan when he took a hammer and smashed out the window of a vehicle in the Parma Walmart parking lot on Saturday to rescue two dogs. Instead, Parma Police cited him with a misdemeanor criminal damaging and said he should have simply waited for police to arrive.

RELATED: Man cited for breaking car window to rescue dogs

Officers arrived four minutes after a 911 call was made. Surveillance video shows the dogs were left in the vehicle — with the windows cracked and panoramic sunroof open — for only two minutes before police were called. Hill said he plans to contest the citation, and police said it will be up to a judge to decide if it sticks.

DanaMarie Pannella, an attorney with Holland and Muirden, is a leading expert on Ohio animal law. She emphasized that the law only covers civil immunity, not criminal immunity.

“The law is open-ended, because it requires the person who’s using it to make a judgment call,” Pannella explained. ”It’s extremely subjective.”

Pannella said that’s why the law firm doesn't recommend people rely on the statute.

“The reason we say that is because your point of view may not be reasonable,” Pannella said. “It’s hard to separate emotion from the situation when you’re standing there looking at a child or a dog in a car, and it’s hot and you’re worried.”

Pannella said it's best to call law enforcement, explain the situation and ask for an approximate arrival time.

The law also does not mention any kind of specific timeline, but does require a person to follow specific requirements, like calling 911 first and making sure all doors are locked before breaking in. For more information on the Good Samaritan law, you can click here.