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.
In a recent case, a woman was killed while driving with her husband in Tennessee. The husband was driving when his vehicle was involved in an accident with a vehicle owned by someone else, which then collided with two other cars. The woman was killed instantly. After the accident, several lawsuits were filed, asserting various claims for liability. The other driver sued the husband, alleging that he was driving negligently. The husband, in a wrongful death action, sued the other driver, alleging the same. At the same time, the woman’s daughter from a previous marriage also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the husband and the other driver. She alleged that one or both of them was driving while intoxicated at the time of the accident. The three lawsuits were consolidated, and shortly thereafter, the husband moved to dismiss the daughter’s claim on the basis that she was precluded from bringing it because he had first priority under Tennessee’s wrongful death statute. The trial court agreed and dismissed the daughter’s claim. She appealed.
Under Tennessee’s wrongful death statute, family members may bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of another individual who has died. The family member is essentially bringing the deceased individual’s claim for them, since they cannot do so. Under the statute, the deceased person’s claims pass to any surviving spouse who may exist. If a surviving spouse does not exist or declines to bring a lawsuit, the claims pass to the deceased person’s children or next of kin. Since the husband had already brought a lawsuit, the trial court found that the daughter could not bring another case under the statute. The Tennessee Court of Appeals disagreed.
It held that the wife had a viable claim of wrongful death against her husband because he was driving on the night of the accident and was alleged to have acted negligently. However, the husband could not be both a plaintiff and a defendant in his own lawsuit, and he was thus precluded from bringing a claim against himself. The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that in order to recognize and allow a potential claim against the husband, which was the wife’s right had she lived, the daughter would have to be allowed to bring a wrongful death claim as well. Accordingly, it determined that the dismissal of the daughter’s claim should be reversed and her action on behalf of her mother reinstated.
When a family member or loved one dies as a result of another person’s negligence or bad acts, the first inclination can be to want to bring justice on behalf of the deceased person. Tennessee’s wrongful death statute provides just such an opportunity, but it allows such claims only in very limited circumstances. Before filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is important that you consult the statute and determine whether you are a proper plaintiff under Tennessee law. An experienced wrongful death attorney like Eric Beasley can help you determine whether Tennessee’s wrongful death statute permits you to bring a claim. Mr. Beasley has assisted personal injury victims throughout Tennessee in bringing wrongful death actions and is available to answer your questions. For more information, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.
Related Blog Posts:
When Can A Surviving Spouse Bring a Wrongful Death Action in Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 14, 2016.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations in Tennessee Wrongful Death Cases, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 4, 2016.
Managing Parallel Criminal and Civil Proceedings for Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 24, 2016.