Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

When a party is injured by the negligence of another party, that individual typically has claims for the pain and suffering and other damages that they experienced. Additionally, in some states, like Tennessee, those who knew the party, were closely related to the person injured, or witnessed the injury that occurred may also have their own claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). Since NIED claims could potentially open a defendant up to many claims by many different parties, they are typically construed quite narrowly and require plaintiffs to show that they were immediately affected by an “injury producing event.” In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered whether an injury producing event had to occur instantly or could be the product of prolonged negligence over time.

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One of the foundational principles of the public judiciary is that judicial proceedings should be open and transparent for the public. For this reason, filings, papers, and arguments made by parties in a lawsuit are typically considered part of the public record and can be viewed by others, although sometimes for a small fee. In very limited circumstances, parties can request that a court “seal” a paper that is filed, or the record of the proceeding in its entirety, in order to protect the privacy of parties involved. This can happen when one party is a minor or when sensitive information is being discussed, such as with medical records, cases involving sexual or child abuse, or situations when confidential financial information is at issue. Even when a court agrees to seal a record, the parties cannot use that to their advantage to keep important information from another party in a related lawsuit, as illustrated by a recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

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At the heart of every negligence case is the question of whether the alleged defendant actually owed a duty to the plaintiff who was injured. Without the presence of a duty, the defendant simply cannot be held responsible for any accident or injury that might have occurred. In Tennessee, individuals generally do not owe a duty to prevent another individual from harming themselves or to prevent a harm that they had no part in creating. This is often known as the no duty to aid doctrine. However, as with most general rules, there are some exceptions. Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals considered whether a special exception applies to prisons when they are in custody of a prisoner, or even after the prisoner is released.

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When an individual has to have serious surgery, he or she will generally be asked to consent to such surgery and will be informed of all of the related risks that may accompany the surgery. A surgeon will typically inform the patient of the possible scenarios that may occur during the surgery and the likelihood or risk of side effects or bad outcomes. This way, when the surgery occurs, a patient cannot later accuse the surgeon of undertaking actions of which he had not previously informed the patient. When a surgeon does not adequately inform a patient of what is likely to occur during surgery, or the risks involved, and undertakes procedures of which the patient was not previously aware, a patient may later claim medical battery or an injury to the body to which the patient did not consent. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, a patient, and later her son, alleged medical battery as a result of a procedure that she claimed she was not made aware could occur.

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With the passage of several recent laws in Tennessee, plaintiffs seeking to bring claims against doctors and health care facilities must meet stringent requirements for providing notice and information to potential defendants. When these procedural requirements are not met, plaintiffs can be prevented from seeking relief and have their claims dismissed. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, one such claim was dismissed after a plaintiff failed to provide proper notice to defendants under the laws.

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Wrongful death claims are claims brought on behalf of an individual who has died as a result of another party’s tortious conduct. Since the deceased individual cannot bring a claim, certain family members are statutorily permitted to do so. Most state statutes, including Tennessee’s, carefully prescribe who is permitted to bring a wrongful death claim. This helps to avoid distant family members or acquaintances from bringing a claim that should rightfully belong to a spouse or child. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently looked at whether a daughter can bring a wrongful death claim when a spouse is also alive and wishes to bring a claim as well.

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In recent years, more and more public spaces have begun to carry automated external defibrillators, also known as AEDs. These devices allow individuals to respond quickly to instances of cardiac arrest or other heart-related emergencies. AEDs do require training in order to be used effectively, and many of the distributors of AEDs now offer training in conjunction with the purchase of the devices so that they can be used safely. A recent case before the Tennessee Supreme Court considers the obligations and duties placed upon sellers and purchasers of AEDs when employees and individuals are not trained on how to safely use them.

In Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, Ms. Wallis sued Brainerd Church for wrongful death after her husband died while working out at a gym owned by the Church. Several years before, Brainerd Church purchased several AED devices from a distributor known as ExtendLife, Inc. In conjunction with the purchase of the devices, Brainerd Church also purchased the “Annual Physician Oversight Program Management,” which gave the church access to training programs so that its employees could learn how to use the AEDs, as well as consultation, monitoring, and support. Brained Church, with ExtendLife’s assistance, held several classes to train members and employees on how to use the AEDs. In 2011, Mr. Willis was participating in a cycling class at Brainerd’s exercise facility when he collapsed. The cycling instructor at the time was trained in how to use an AED but believed Mr. Wallis was suffering from a stroke, rather than a heart-related event, and did not use the AED. Several other bystanders brought the AED over and called 9-1-1, but ultimately they did not use the device. By the time emergency personnel arrived, Mr. Wallis was dead.

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When an individual dies as the result of another’s actions, it is common for family members and friends to want to seek justice on behalf of the individual who has been killed. In most states, including Tennessee, state statutes dictate who is entitled to bring such a claim, in order to prevent friends or distant relatives from bringing claims that rightfully belong to a family member like a child or spouse.  However, these statutes often have specific provisions that set forth when and how such wrongful death actions can be brought, as well as who can bring them. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals considered whether surviving spouses may bring wrongful death actions on behalf of a deceased family member when the spouse owed outstanding child support obligations.

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Under Tennessee law, family members of individuals wrongly killed as a result of another’s actions may sue for damages under the Tennessee Wrongful Death Statute.  However, wrongful death claims cannot be brought whenever a family member wishes to bring one, but instead they must be brought within the statute of limitations (deadline period) for such claims. While this is generally a hard and fast rule, in certain circumstances, the statute of limitations period can be “tolled” or put on hold until a family member makes a proper claim. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals considers whether a pro se complaint incorrectly filed within the statute of limitations period tolls the deadline such that a later, correctly filed complaint is also timely.

In Beard v. Branson et al., Ruth Hartley underwent colon surgery performed by Dr. Branson. After the surgery, Ms. Hartley developed complications from the surgery, but Dr. Branson dismissed the medical issues as insignificant. Ms. Hartley’s condition deteriorated, and she passed away on September 29, 2004. A year later, in September 2005, Mr. Hartley, the surviving spouse, filed a pro se (without representation) wrongful death complaint against Dr. Branson. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Branson moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that it was incorrectly filed, and for that reason it was void. In the meantime, the statute of limitations had also expired under Tennessee’s Wrongful Death Statute.

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As discussed on this blog, private individuals are frequently the subject of negligence and wrongful death lawsuits for automobile accidents that resulted in injuries to others or lost lives.  But it is not always private individuals or private automobiles that are the cause of deadly car crashes.  In many instances, employees may be driving company cars when they suddenly run a red light, or a government official may be using a government vehicle that becomes part of an accident scene. In these situations, liability can become more complicated and extend beyond the driver to the corporation or government agency that was “controlling” the driver or the car at the time of the accident.  A recent case in the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considers what happens when government employees and their vehicles are involved in life-changing accidents.

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