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New Tennessee Statute Provides Immunity for Forcible Entry Into A Motor Vehicle to Remove Minor in Imminent Danger

Posted on Jul 13 2014 7:03PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Legislature dealt with an interesting issue in the 2014 legislative session involving minor’s stuck in vehicles.  The legislature passed Public Chapter No. 788 and it took effect on July 1, 2014.  Apparently, there was some need to pass this statute although this statute really addresses a very rare circumstance.  It is of note, however, that this particular change in Tennessee law has received quite a bit of attention from the media even though there are other changes in the law that are much more substantial and significant but they receive no media attention. 

 

In summary this new statute basically provides immunity from civil liability for any damages resulting from forcible entry into a vehicle to remove a minor from the vehicle.  The person who removes the minor must have a good faith belief that forcible entry is necessary because the minor is in imminent danger of suffering harm.  There are also other requirements that are outlined in the statute and must be followed for this immunity to apply.  The new statute is found in T.C.A. § 29-34-209 and provides as follows:

 

(a) A person whose conduct conforms to the requirements of subsection (b) shall be immune from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a minor from the vehicle.
(b) Subsection (a) applies if the person:
 (1) Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the minor to exit the vehicle;
 (2) Has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the minor is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from  the vehicle and, based upon the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is a reasonable one;
 (3) Has contacted either the local law enforcement agency, the fire department or the 911 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle;
 (4) Places a notice on the vehicle's windshield with the person's contact information, the reason the entry was made, the location of the minor and that the  authorities have been notified;
 (5) Remains with the minor in a safe location, out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle until law enforcement, fire or other emergency responder  arrives; and
 (6) Used no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the child from the vehicle than is necessary under the circumstances.
(c) Nothing in this section shall affect the person's civil liability if the person attempts to render aid to the minor in addition to what is authorized by this section.

 

Obviously, it is likely a rare circumstance where this will occur (I am referring to the actual need for immunity to apply to protect someone from a lawsuit – I am aware that minors are sometimes left in vehicles but certainly people intervene if they know they are in danger without regard to a potential lawsuit) but it certainly could come up on occasion in Tennessee.  Although I wonder under what circumstance is someone going to sue someone for their broken car window when the person rescued a minor child from their car?  If someone meets all of these good faith requirements then why would someone sue them and what would they sue them for?  For these reasons, I think this statute has an extremely limited impact but the media, for some reason, has given this statute undue attention when other statutory changes are much more significant and they go ignored.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2014 Tennessee Legislation, Defenses, Immunity
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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