A new Florida Good Samaritan law now gives an individual the right to break into another person’s motor vehicle if a “vulnerable person” or animal appears to be in distress. The new law, Florida statute 768.139, went into effect on March 8, 2016. If the Good Samaritan follows certain steps, the law guarantees civil immunity for damages resulting from entry into the vehicle.
The Good Samaritan law passed by the Florida legislature uses the following language:
A person who enters a motor vehicle, by force or otherwise, for the purpose of removing a vulnerable person or domestic animal is immune from civil liability for damage to the motor vehicle if the person:
(1) Determines the motor vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the vulnerable person or animal to exit the motor vehicle without assistance, and
(2) Has a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon the known circumstances, that entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because the vulnerable person or domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm, and
(3) Ensures that law enforcement is notified or 911 called before entering the motor vehicle or immediately thereafter, and
(4) Uses no more force to enter the motor vehicle and remove the vulnerable person or domestic animal than is necessary, and
(5) Remains with the vulnerable person or domestic animal in a safe location, in reasonable proximity to the motor vehicle, until law enforcement or other first responder arrives.
The Good Samaritan law is an obvious attempt to deal primarily with situations which are far too frequent in Florida where a small child is locked inside a hot motor vehicle with the windows up, while the parent or caregiver is nowhere to be found. Instead of having to call and wait for the police or EMS to arrive, Florida now gives private citizens the ability to intervene, since time may be of the essence. The statute is not restricted to small children, however. The language includes the term “vulnerable persons”, which under Florida law is defined as children under the age of 18, as well as adults who suffer from physical or mental disabilities. It is important to note, however, that the law requires that ALL of the steps listed above be taken in order to avoid liability. You can not force entry into the vehicle, and ask questions later.
The Florida Good Samaritan law expands these protections to domestic animals as well, which is similar to laws which exist in several other states. So what does Florida consider to be a domestic animal? The statute actually defines it as “a dog, cat, or other animal that is domesticated and may be kept as a household pet.” It goes further to state that this does not include “livestock or other farm animals.”
The Florida Good Samaritan law only deals with a person’s civil liability. It does not have any language limiting an individual’s potential criminal responsibility. Breaking into someone’s car without the owner’s consent can arguably be considered a burglary, and damaging another’s automobile during the act of rescuing a child or animal could be prosecuted as the crime of criminal mischief. Both burglary and criminal mischief do require criminal intent, however, and it is my opinion as a criminal defense attorney that no crime would be committed if the person followed the steps spelled out in the new law.
If you should have any questions regarding this new Good Samaritan law, please feel free to contact me at (941) 954-5333, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.