(ABC4) – Witnesses to an accident or emergency aren’t under any obligation to intervene or assist, but good Samaritan laws provide protections for well-meaning people who do choose to help out.
“If they do choose to jump in and they do choose to help, they won’t be liable if they happen to have been negligent when they assist,” Attorney Greg Skordas explains.
“I think a lot of people are scared to intervene when they see something wrong, and the Good Samaritan Law is really set up to alleviate that fear and to say, look, if you jumped in and you want to help someone out, we will back you up and we will give you some immunity if something goes wrong,” he states.
In Utah, the law protects those who break into a vehicle on a hot day to save a child. But those who break into a car to save an animal, may face penalties.
“The Good Samaritan Law specifically allows that a person can break into a car if they see a child in the car and that child could be in peril. Now, they can’t do excessive damage to the car. They can do whatever they need to do to open the car, to break a window to save the child and to get that child out of what could be a dangerous situation,” Skordas states. “That doesn’t apply to pets in the car, only to the humans.”
Well-meaning bystanders should do whatever they can to get a child in need of help out of a vehicle, Skordas says, but rather than breaking a window as a first resort, check the doors and every other access to the car first.
“Whatever you need to do to get that child out of the car and it’s reasonable, you’re entitled to do so,” he says.
According to Skordas, breaking into a car to save a dog might be a good thing to do, but under the law in Utah, people can be charged with criminal mischief for causing damage to property, even if their motive was to save an animal.
Rachel Heatley, Esq., Advocacy Director at the Humane Society of Utah, issued the following comment about the law:
“It is unfortunate that Utah law does not allow individuals to rescue distressed pets from hot vehicles. Even on a 70 degree day, the heat inside a vehicle can rise beyond 100 degrees in less than 20 minutes, putting pets in danger of experiencing heat stroke or even death. In the past, the Humane Society of Utah has attempted to pass such legislation but we were unable to find support from the Utah legislature,” she states.
“Having this legislation in place could save countless pets and prevent further tragedies from occurring. In the meantime, anyone who sees an animal in distress in a hot vehicle should call 911 immediately,” Heatley adds.
Though those who break into a hot vehicle to save animals are not protected under the current law, Skordas says it is “certainly something that will probably be considered in the future, especially given the number of incidents we have of both pets and children being left in hot cars.”