Subject: TFA: Civil Immunity protections act passes both houses

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April 27, 2021

Tennessee passes significant improves to civil immunity for those resorting to self-defense
Over the last few years, Tennessee Firearms Association has worked with a number of state legislators to improve existing laws regarding civil immunity for those who resort to justifiable self-defense. Under existing law, a person who found themselves in a situation where they found it necessary to use deadly force in self-defense could be at risk for being sued in a civil action related to the event even through a possible or actual criminal investigation or indictment may be pending.

Rep. Christ Todd and Senator Dawn White carried HB25/SB1148 which passed the House on March 29, 2021 and passed the Senate on April 27, 2021. The legislation provides that a person who uses or threatens the use of force against another may request a stay of proceedings in any civil action based on the use of force until the criminal investigation has concluded. If a civil action is filed prior to the conclusion of the criminal investigation, the person is allowed to file a motion in the civil action to ask the court to dismiss the action.

The bill initially provides that “if a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding is conducted based upon the defendant’s use or threatened use of force, a civil action that is based upon the defendant’s use or threatened use of force or the results of the defendant’s use or threatened use of force may not proceed until the conclusion of the criminal investigation or criminal proceeding, if a stay of the proceedings is requested by the defendant. If the defendant requests a stay of proceedings and the court determines that a relevant criminal investigation or criminal proceeding is ongoing, the court shall grant a stay of proceedings until the conclusion of the criminal investigation or criminal proceeding.”

The bill further provides that a defendant may still request an initial hearing on the immunity issue. If so, the bill provides that “the burden of proof at the hearing is initially on the defendant to present sufficient admissible evidence to fairly raise the issue of whether the use of force was justified under §§ 39-11-611 – 39-11-614 or § 29-34-201. If the court finds that the permissible use of force has been fairly raised, a presumption of immunity is created and the burden of proof shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that civil liability is not barred by this section.” If the court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that civil immunity exists, the civil case shall be dismissed with prejudice. If the court is unable to reach that determination initially, then the civil case is stayed pending resolution of the criminal investigation or case.

The bill also provides that if it is ultimately determined that the defendant is entitled to civil immunity that “the court shall award the defendant attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of the civil action.”
This is a material change in Tennessee law and one that provides meaningful protections for Tennesseans who find themselves as the victim of a violent crime and who therefore use justifiable force to defend themselves.

TFA would like to acknowledge the hard work of the sponsors Rep. Chris Todd and Senator Dawn White for their work on this bill and their willingness to carry this legislation. TFA would also like to thank Rep. Mike Carter who worked extensively with TFA and the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Chris Todd, and legislative counsel, Tom Tigue for their contributions to getting this bill in its final format. It was a material help to the quality of the bill and made it easier to get it through the system with full support and no amendments.

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John Harris
Executive Director
johnharris@tennesseefirearms.com


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