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In an episode of Friends, Chandler is in an ATM vestibule when a power blackout happens. The door to the vestibule automatically locks and he (and a supermodel) are trapped inside until the power comes on. Is this legal? There is this related question:

Can I legally trap someone on my property that has committed a crime?

But no one has answered it. It seems like banks are allowed to detain you even though you've done nothing wrong. It's easy to think of scenarios that would make this worse. Instead of a supermodel for company, instead you have a full bladder. Or you popped out for a second to get cash and now your kids are home alone for hours.

I recently read a similar (real) story about a guy in the UK getting trapped. So either a US or a UK answer would be of most interest to me.

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    This is a poorly researched question with bad wording. It doesn't accure to the OP that it just a badly designed electonic door. Instead it assumes criminal intent without looking up was the words used (in the legal sense) means: Kidnap: abduct (someone) and hold them captive, typically to obtain a ransom. Instead of telling others to be quite, the OP should write the question taking all relavent aspects into account. Feb 19 at 14:06
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    Frame challenge - foyer doors were never intended to keep people in. Instead its there to keep the weather out initially and reduce heat loss. Then it was mechanised for convenience. Finally an ingress system was fitted to stop homeless from camping out in a sheltered place. Trapping people is not the purpose.
    – Criggie
    Feb 20 at 1:39
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    @Criggie I've seen videos of jewelry stores that have bars or cages slam down to keep thieves from escaping. My impression of the episode was that the bank was doing something similar. My question remains the same: Would such a thing be legal?
    – B. Goddard
    Feb 20 at 4:43
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    I was trapped in a lift, which first fell, then was trapped by a safety brake, and then "just sat there". This was on a Sunday morning when I'd briefly visited my office before starting a 500 mile drive. The thought of suing anyone did not occur. As that was about 35 years ago it's probably now a bit late to think about it. Feb 20 at 9:02
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    I would agree this is a framing question. The problem isn't that the bank is "trapping" you... it's that it's badly designed system failure state. When power fails or a security system fails, does it fail closed or fail open? if the electric goes out, should the door be locked or open? The true answer is that the door should be openable from the inside (as mentioned by others). I would think the bank could be sued because in case of other emergencies (IE: Fire) the people should be able to get out.
    – WernerCD
    Feb 20 at 19:32

3 Answers 3

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A power failure is an obvious example of force majeure. Nobody would talk of kidnapping, as you tagged your question, if a power failure trapped a lift between floors.

The real issue would be one of fire safety and other safety. How is a bank allowed to design a room open to the public if escape becomes impossible in the case of power failure? In , powered doors would most likely need a manual override in the exit direction, but specific issues of fire safety are way too complicated for a generic answer on the web.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Feb 20 at 19:40
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Many US jurisdictions have adopted the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (which falls into the general category of building codes). The 2024 edition states

4.5.3.2 Unobstructed Egress. In every occupied building or structure, means of egress from all parts of the building shall be maintained free and unobstructed. Means of egess shall be accessible to the extent necessary to ensure reasonable safety for occupants having impaired mobility.

The code is long and provides alternative ways to satisfy requirements, but I think the trope one sees in books, tv, and movies of buildings automatically locking people in would usually be a building code violation.

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    @reirab yes and no: There are buildings that, in case of power out have to lock shut in such a way that nobody can enter or exit until emergency power kicks in. Those are for example S3 labs that work with for example Ebola.
    – Trish
    Feb 19 at 15:51
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    @Trish No such exception would apply to a bank ATM vestibule, though (or virtually anywhere else where the general public would be allowed to enter in the first place.) At any rate, I would be surprised if even those places weren't required to have some kind of override to allow for emergency egress during a fire.
    – reirab
    Feb 19 at 16:06
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    @reirab Just saying that BSL-3 & 4 are special and that normal rules are massively altered and follow special guidelines. It's more typical to have a fully autonomous firefighting system that first extinguishes the fire while egress is only possible into a room still inside the containment area to prevent contamination outside.
    – Trish
    Feb 19 at 16:20
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    @Trish Fair, but hopefully research on deadly airborne pathogens is not being conducted in a bank ATM vestibule. :)
    – reirab
    Feb 19 at 16:24
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    Nuclear weapon facilities, TS/SCI archives, high-risk chemical and biological labs are examples where containment takes precedence over occupant safety. They are, however, even more difficult to enter than they are to leave.
    – Therac
    Feb 19 at 20:29
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Is it legal for a bank to trap you in an ATM vestibule?

If this was done intentionally, and outside of a citizen's arrest (s. 494, Criminal Code), this would make out the tort of false imprisonment: intentional confinement of a person without legal justification.

I see you have tagged this , but that requires the additional element of moving the person from one place to another.

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    @Cœur I don't think so. As I understood the episode, the door is rigged purposefully to trap people inside in the case of power outage so that they can't get away with theft. My question is whether such a thing is legal.
    – B. Goddard
    Feb 19 at 21:43
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    What if the ATM is on a ship and the ship is moving? :-)
    – gerrit
    Feb 19 at 22:09
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    The passenger (now 'victim') voluntarily boarded the ship so as long as not intentionally diverted from the original destinations/itinerary any movement is also voluntary.
    – civitas
    Feb 20 at 1:05
  • Had a sort of pre-law school class MANY years ago, but I recall a case where a guy's car was being repossessed and he refused to get out of it. The repo guys lifted it with a tow truck and started driving it away with him still in. He sued and won for false imprisonment (at least I think that was what it was called). Now someone who actually knows about this, please give the corrections/details to this story. If someone had decided to close the ATM's door to trap a thief, that would be closer to what I remember, but still seems related.
    – Schneb
    Feb 20 at 5:27
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    @Schneb: I don't know about your case specifically, but the principle of law is correct. There are several reasons why you can't repo the vehicle while it's occupied and kidnapping is one of them. Another one being it's not legal in most states to ride in a trailer while a vehicle is moving, and the towed vehicle is a trailer under the law.
    – Joshua
    Feb 20 at 22:27

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