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By Jeff Terrill
Fort Wayne Reader
A person who rescues a domestic animal from a motor vehicle might be immune from criminal and civil liability under certain circumstances. On a hot summer day, the inside of a parked car can reach temperatures in excess of 130 degrees. Within a short period of time, an animal can suffer serious injuries or death.
A new 2017 law provides that a concerned person can forcibly enter another person’s motor vehicle to remove a domestic animal that the person believes is in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily harm. The law requires, among other things, that the person must first call 911 or “attempt to contact” a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or animal control officer before forcibly entering the vehicle. The rescuer must then remain with the domestic animal until a police officer or other emergency responder arrives.
A person is liable to the owner of the vehicle for only one-half of the cost of repairing the damage resulting from the forced entry. However, police officers and other emergency responders acting in compliance with the new law cannot be held financially responsible for any damage resulting from their forced entry.
Meet Jane. She’s a teenager with a lot of energy. Jane loves animals – all animals. She volunteers at animal shelters and has raised hundreds of dollars for pet related charities over the years. Jane recently heard about the new animal rescue Good Samaritan law.
On her way into Walmart on a hot summer day, Jane hears what sounds like a goat’s cry coming from the inside of a parked van. Jane looks inside and sees baby goats, chickens, rabbits and a pony enclosed in cages. The animals appear lethargic. She suspects the temperature inside the van is dangerously hot.
Jane tries opening the doors. No luck. Jane can tell the animals inside are really struggling. Jane dials 911. She explains to the dispatch officer that several animals are trapped inside a hot van. Dispatch tells her to wait for an officer to arrive.
Jane waits a few minutes. No officer arrives. She smashes the passenger side window, reaches inside, opens the door and steps inside. Jane opens up the back doors and removes the animals from the van.
An officer arrives. Jane explains the situation. After a few minutes, the owner of the van emerges. He is not happy. He tells the officer that he wants to press charges for the damages to his van. He explains that the animals are the entertainment at a youngster’s birthday party in a few minutes.
The police officer explains to Jane that the goats, chickens, pony and rabbits are not “domestic animals” as contemplated by the new law. Jane is outraged but polite.
The officer takes photographs of the broken window. He tells Jane that he will forward his report to the prosecutor’s office and that she should hear something in a few weeks.
Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you