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Tennessee's Vehicle Window-Breaking Law

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"Studies found that on days when ambient temperatures exceeded 86°F, the internal temperatures of the vehicle quickly reached 134 to 154°F." ~ from Journal of Pediatrics article, "Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles"

The summer of 2017 will be the second year that Tennessee law allows persons to smash a window or otherwise forcibly enter a parked vehicle, without liability, to rescue a child or animal who is at risk unless immediately removed from the vehicle.

In passing the first such law in the nation, the Tennessee Legislature imposed six safeguard conditions.

  1. What are the six conditions for it to be legal to break into a vehicle to rescue an unaccompanied child or animal without liability?

This unique law, published at Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-34-209, has six safeguard requirements.

In order not to be financially liable for damages from forcibly entering a vehicle, the rescuer must:

(1) Determine the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the minor or animal to exit the vehicle;

(2) Have a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the minor or animal 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) Before forcibly entering the vehicle, first contact either the local law enforcement agency, the fire department, or a 911 operator;

(4) Use no more force than is necessary under the circumstances to enter the vehicle and remove the child or animal from the vehicle;

(5) Place a written notice on the vehicle's windshield with the rescuer's contact information, the reason the entry was made, the location of the minor or animal, and the fact that the authorities have been notified; and

(6) Remain with the minor or animal in a safe location, out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle, until law enforcement, fire, or another emergency responder arrives.

James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. You can call (615) 452-9200 to suggest future column topics.

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