Don’t Get Caught Like a Deer in the Headlights


Laws you didn’t know you needed to know. Well, now you know.

It has come to my attention that some of our readers may be receiving bad information about the law. It’s hard to comprehend the thousands of laws that control our lives. Our everyday activities and behaviors are affected by a complex network of common laws that we largely inherited from our English ancestors and what can be a confusing web of federal and state statutes. Just keeping up can make your head spin.

As a lawyer, I feel it is my responsibility to straighten out those of you who may be learning your law from potentially unreliable sources like TikTok, Twitter, the Onion, or perhaps SNL Weekend Update. So, allow me to answer a few inquiries about some legal issues that may be on your mind.

Road Kill Law

Yes, Tennessee does have a law that allows you, if you’re lucky, to “possess for personal use and consumption” game animals that you might find dead on or along the highway. So be on the lookout for something good to take home and fix for supper as you drive along Tennessee’s back roads. Of course, if you actually hit and killed your treasure, it makes it much easier to find. Like all laws, however, there are conditions and exceptions to your enjoyment of a grand feast of prairie-chicken casserole. First, your plunder must not be a federally protected species, and, second, the cause of death must be established to be by motor vehicle. In some cases, an autopsy may be required to rule out death by poisoning, rock slides, guns, arrows, or sexual selection competition. The law allows only “game animals” to be possessed and eaten, which is really good news for those of us who enjoy grilling snakes, squirrels, and beavers. If interested, I have a few good recipes for pigeon pie and kangaroo stew.

Airline Travel

There has been some controversy recently about the laws related to airline travel and passenger entitlements if flights are cancelled or overbooked. According to USDOT regulations, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, airlines on domestic itineraries are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled. As a general rule, airlines do not guarantee they will depart on schedule or even that they will depart. There are no guarantees in flying like there is no crying in baseball. However, when your international flight is delayed or cancelled due to airline negligence or failure to take reasonable measures required to avoid your economic damages resulting from a delay or cancellation, reimbursements are possible (see Article 19, Montreal Convention). Forget it, however, if the excuse is weather conditions, maintenance, or security issues. Damages for international passengers are capped unless the airline conduct is proven to be intentional or reckless.

As you might imagine, overbooking a flight is not illegal. We poor passengers have to just put up with this abuse in the name of corporate profits. However, the airline must first ask for volunteers to be bumped in exchange for compensation plus a later flight. The compensation or benefits that passengers might receive as a volunteer are not mandated by law and a free market exchange occurs. I volunteered once to be bumped and my demand was luxury accommodations and two tickets to the Super Bowl. The other passengers got a kick out of that.

Now, what about that poor devil who gets involuntarily bumped just before takeoff from a flight for which he has a ticket and is sitting in his assigned seat? You would think that this is where the big bucks come in. The USDOT regulations require payment to the involuntarily bumped passenger by check or cash as soon as he is untied back in the terminal. The minimum amount that is required to be paid is based upon the price of the one-way ticket and the length of the passenger’s delay. You actually receive nothing in compensation if your rescheduled flight gets you to your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival. If you will arrive at your destination between one and two hours late, you are entitled to 200 percent of the cost of a one-way ticket, not to exceed $775. If your ultimate arrival will be over two hours late, you are entitled to 400 percent of the cost of the one-way fare, not to exceed $1,550.

International flights involve a different compensation scale. However, you can lose your right to receive compensation for being involuntarily bumped if you do not have a confirmed reservation or if you arrive late at the departure gate. Each flight has a “deadline” for passengers to arrive at the departure gate which changes periodically and varies from airline to airline just to keep us on our toes. You can also lose your rights to compensation if you fail to dress in red hat with an ostrich feather. These are the tricky little rules you never hear about. If you do not wish to be thrown off the plane because of overbooking, I would suggest you cry in front of the other passengers and capture their sympathy and support with a sob story about how your wife ran off with her probation officer and you need to get home quick to take care of the children. That’s what I do.

Proof of ID

Some of our criminal readers have asked if they are required to show their driver’s license to the cops before they are advised of the nature of the trumped up charges when they are stopped again on the highway. The answer to this question is “yes,” especially in a state with a “stop-and-identify” law. In those states with “stop-and-identify” statutes, a party stopped by the police generally is required to identify themselves, and presenting their driver’s license is usually considered a reasonable identification. Tennessee has no such law, but why protest?

Cooling Off

You understand buyer’s remorse, don’t you? Think back to your first marriage or that time you bought a used Mary Kay Cadillac. Well, I have some good news for you. The Federal Trade Commission allows you to get out of some stupid purchases that you make.

If you got all hot and bothered and bought something you regret, you have three days to “cool off” and get out of the deal. However, no “cooling off” is allowed unless the purchase price was over $25 paid to a salesman in your own home, or greater than $130 paid someplace else like that $8,000 bejeweled Elvis jumpsuit you bought in the gift shop of your Las Vegas hotel. You’re stuck with your purchase if it was for a household or personal item like a water bed or a fifty-five gallon drum of anti-aging face cream, deals made on the Internet or by mail, sales completed at the seller’s place of business like the time you bought a mechanical bull from the guy selling junk from his barn, or purchases made in emergency circumstances like the time you gave the Starbucks Barista $200 for the code to the men’s room. If you’re thinking there’s not much left that allows a “cooling off” period–you’re right. My legal suggestion is that you should best think before you buy or otherwise keep me on retainer.

Cutting Out the Spouse

Every day someone asks if he can cut his wife totally out of his will, and I’ve asked my legal assistant to tell that guy to stop calling me. I’m sorry, this is a serious subject. The answer to this question is “no.” A wife or a husband cannot be totally cut out of their spouse’s will because, in Tennessee, a spouse has what is called an “elective share.” This is true even if the will of the deceased states clearly and unambiguously “my spouse is not to receive a damn thing under this will.” The renounced spouse has nine months after death to claim the share. How much is the share, you ask? Like compensation from an airline for overbooking, it depends. The “elective share” is a percentage of the net estate and varies depending on the length of time the spouse was married to the deceased. If married less than three years (even if interrupted by a divorce or two), the share is 10 percent. If married a total of three to six years, the share is 20 percent, and if married between six and nine years, the share is 30 percent. For a marriage or marriages lasting nine years or more, the surviving spouse tops out at 40 percent of the net estate.

Miscellaneous Laws You Should Not Ignore

According to the Knoxville City Code, it is (1) illegal to advertise your special skills to tell fortunes, restore lost love, or use psychic or clairvoyant powers; (2) illegal to allow a minor to play pinball; and (3) legal for a private citizen to make an arrest for offenses committed in his/her presence and for felonies if the arresting person has reasonable cause to believe the person has committed a felony.

It is hard to have fun in Tennessee. We no longer are allowed to fish with dynamite. Only a rod and reel are allowed. Never try to sneak a skunk into Tennessee from Kentucky, and always remember that it is against the law to make any attempt to sell or barter a live skunk inside the state. If you steal a horse in Tennessee, and who hasn’t done that, you can be punished by death. That law has been softened a little over the years because it used to be death by hanging. I guess it doesn’t matter–death is death, and it’s a high price for taking a neighbor’s equine.

Finally, I vividly remember the thrill I got from secretly holding my second-grade girlfriend’s hand during a field trip to a play at the Bijou Theatre. Admittedly, I started early. Now, holding hands is not condoned in Tennessee schools and may be considered a “gateway sexual activity” that causes students to experiment sexually. Like a gateway drug, I must admit, it did cause me to move on to more habit-forming behaviors. Sad to know that there are literally hundreds of seven- and eight-year-old boys who will never know the thrill of holding a girl’s hand in a school assembly program or play.

We hope this helps you in your day-to-day legal dilemmas.   

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