Recreational Vehicles - New Tennessee carbon monoxide detector requirement for RV’s

Posted on Jul 9 2012 10:05AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

On September 18, 2011, a tragic event occurred in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Five bikers were found dead at a Bikers Who Care charity event at the Clarksville Speedway.  At that event, these five individuals lost their lives due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a recreational vehicle (also known as an “RV”).  According to a USA Today article, a small storage hatch on the RV did not close properly.  As a result, carbon monoxide entered the RV and killed five individuals that were in the recreational vehicle.  The USA Today article can be found at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-09-18/biker-deaths-tennessee/50457812/1.


As a result of this tragic occurrence the State of Tennessee legislature passed Public Chapter 568, which was signed into law by Governor Haslam on March 13, 2012.  This legislation added T.C.A. § 55-9-218 which provides: 


(a) A recreational vehicle that is leased or rented must have in such vehicle a carbon monoxide detector in proper working order. All leases or rental agreements for a recreational vehicle shall contain language that the carbon monoxide detector in such recreational vehicle was tested, is in proper working order, and that a demonstration of the use of such equipment was performed for the lessee of the recreational vehicle. All leases or rental agreements for recreational vehicles shall contain the following statement, an acknowledgement of which shall be initialed or signed by the lessor and lessee of such vehicle:




(b) An action for civil damages in a court of competent jurisdiction may be brought against any lessor found violating this section, and damages sustained as a consequence of the lessor's violations may be recovered, together with all costs and attorneys' fees.


The entire bill can be found at http://www.tn.gov/sos/acts/107/pub/pc0568.pdf.  This statute went into effect on July 1, 2012 and requires that any RV that is "leased or rented" must have a working carbon monoxide detector inside the vehicle.  Further, the detector must be demonstrated for the renter of the vehicle.  The lease or rental agreement must include specific language found in the statute and initialed by the lessor and lessee of the vehicle acknowledging there is a working carbon monoxide detector in the RV. 


There is no definition of "recreational vehicle" in T.C.A. § 55-9-218.  However, there is a definition of recreational vehicle found in T.C.A. § 55-17-102.  This statute provides the following definition: 


(22) “Recreational vehicle” means a vehicular type unit primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreation, camping, or travel use, which either has its own motive power or is drawn by another vehicle. The basic entities classified as “recreational vehicles” are camping trailers, travel trailers, and motor homes;


T.C.A. § 55-9-218 provides that an action for civil damages can be brought against any lessor that violates this statute for damages resulting from the violation.  Importantly, this statute also provides that all "costs and attorneys' fees" are recoverable against the lessor for violation of this statute. 


Obviously, the significant effect of this statute is to provide enhanced damages including attorneys' fees and costs for violation of this statute.  Any individual or entity who leases or rents a recreational vehicle is required to comply with this statute.  This statute is not limited to retailers or large companies who rent such vehicles.  Even an individual who rents an RV can be found liable for not complying with this statute. 


Additionally, this statute provides a basis for liability that may not have existed prior to the existence of this statute.  Certainly, prior to this statute, plaintiffs had an argument that individuals or entities that leased or rented a RV should have a carbon monoxide detector in the RV and that a failure to do so was negligent.  However, this statute now provides a clear cause of action against any lessor who rents out a RV vehicle and fails to provide a working carbon monoxide detector.  Interestingly, the requirement in the statute that requires a “demonstration of the use of such equipment" could also provide a basis for a suit even if the detector is working properly.  If someone is injured or killed because they did not understand the proper use of the detector, even if the detector is working, they (or their legal representative for a death case) could recover under this statute.

TAGS: Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Miscellaneous, 2012 Tennessee Legislation, Attorney Fees
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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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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com