“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same.”
~ From the poem “If…” by English writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
By JIM HAWKINS
Living in Middle Tennessee, I am alert to severe weather watches, and for good reason. My home and neighborhood were hit by a deadly tornado in April 2006. I witnessed and helped victims in the aftermath of the Super Tuesday tornado in February 2008 that struck Sumner, Trousdale, and Macon Counties; and I waded and swam in flood waters to secure neighbors’ property during the May 2010 flood.
Tennessee has a law against price gouging following disasters. With my personal hope that you never need its protections, here are some Q’s and A’s about this special law.
Q. What do you mean by “price gouging”?
“Price gouging” happens when businesses sharply raise the prices of their goods and services after a high profile event, such as a natural disaster or an act of terrorism.
Q. Does Tennessee have any laws against price gouging?
Yes. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a few businesses in Tennessee unfortunately took advantage and engaged in price gouging.
In the spring of 2002, the Legislature passed the Tennessee Price-Gouging Act. This law deals with businesses that jack up prices after a disaster for “goods and services that are vital or necessary for the consumer.”
Q. When and where does the anti-price-gouging law take effect?
The law takes effect whenever there is a declared state of emergency, and in the counties or towns that are covered by the state of emergency.
The President of the United States and the Governor of Tennessee can each exercise the power to declare a state of emergency. The law stays in force and effect until the state of emergency is officially ended.
Q. What kind of teeth does this law have?
‘Sharp ones.’ It is a Class B misdemeanor crime for businesses to charge prices for goods and services that are “grossly in excess” of the price charged immediately before the disaster.
Penalties are up to $1,000 per violation. The law applies to:
- Food items
- Repair or construction services
- Emergency supplies
- Medical supplies
- Building materials
- Storage services and
Q. What should I do if I believe that price gouging may be happening?
Consumers are encouraged to report any suspicious price hikes to 1-800-342-8385, which is the Consumer Affairs Division for the State of Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
Q. Are there any other laws in Tennessee that fight price gouging?
Yes. The Tennessee Consumer Protection Act treats price gouging as an “unfair and deceptive act or practice.” If a court finds that the TCPA has been violated, then the court can award a consumer triple monetary damages plus attorney fees.
It is also a crime to charge an inflated price for any vaccine or inoculation when a medical emergency has been declared by the State of Tennessee Commissioner of Health.
Extra Consumer Tip: After a local or even a distant disaster, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, bogus charities often pop up and falsely claim to collect money for the victims. The Tennessee Secretary of State keeps a list of registered, legitimate charities at state.tn.us/sos/charity. It’s a good idea to do research and check the list of charities before you give.
James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. 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. Call (615) 452-9200 to submit topics for future columns.