Of the millions of deaths that occur each year in the United States, many are preventable. Negligence, recklessness, and intentional actions are key contributors to fatal injuries. Tennessee law allows the surviving spouse and children of a deceased person to file a wrongful death claim and recover numerous types of damages.
At The Terry Law Firm, our Morristown wrongful death lawyers are committed to representing survivors with vigorous advocacy and a human touch. Our reputation for compassionate counsel is matched by a strong track record of success in wrongful death cases. When you are ready to talk about a wrongful death lawsuit, our attorneys are here to listen. Call (423) 586-5800 or send us a message online to schedule a free consultation.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Tennessee?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the right to pursue legal action for injuries caused by another person passes from the decedent to certain family members, or to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The right to file a wrongful death claim proceeds in the following order:
- The surviving spouse
- The surviving children or next of kin
- The personal representative of the estate
- The natural parents, if the decedent was dependent on their parents at the time of death
- The legally adoptive parents
Additional considerations for the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The beneficiary of a wrongful death lawsuit who is a minor or legally incompetent may, on the directions of the court, have the funds placed into a trust until the beneficiary is of age.
- If the person who died did not have a will, the court will appoint a personal representative, who may then file a lawsuit in the name of the decedent’s estate.
- Only one Tennessee wrongful death claim may be filed. If multiple people file suit, the court will determine who gets to control the litigation.
- The person who files the wrongful death lawsuit is not necessarily the person who is entitled to damages. Lawsuit money is distributed based on statute, not on the decedent’s will. The decedent’s spouse and children are given priority, followed by their parents and next of kin.
Depending on the familial circumstances at the time of death, who has the right to file a lawsuit, and to recover damages, can be complicated issues. If you have questions, our Morristown wrongful death attorneys are available to answer them and guide you through the claims process.
Compensation for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Morristown, TN
Tennessee’s wrongful death remedy is a hybrid between survival and wrongful death statutes. The law provides a cause of action that compensates survivors for their losses resulting from the death, as well as provides damages on behalf of the deceased person. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the following categories of damages are typically available:
- Medical expenses for treatment of the injury that caused death
- Funeral expenses
- Mental and physical suffering, as well as loss of enjoyment of life, suffered by the deceased from the fatal injury, up until the time of death
- The deceased’s loss of income/earning capacity between the time he or she was injured and the time of death
- The amount of income the decedent would have earned over the rest of his or her life, minus the cost of living expenses
- Mental and physical suffering of family members as a result of the death
- Loss of the benefits of a family relationship (i.e., loss of consortium) resulting from the death
- Punitive damages (meant to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior)
Tennessee caps loss of consortium damages at $750,000, unless the decedent had a minor child, in which case damages are capped at $1 million. Punitive damages are not always available, and based on the circumstances, may be capped.
Comparative Fault and Wrongful Death
Comparative fault is a legal method of assigning responsibility for an accident that causes injury or death.
The defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit may try to argue that the deceased person shared blame for the accident that led to the death. Under Tennessee law, compensation can be obtained for a wrongful death if the decedent was less than 50 percent at fault for the injuries. However, the amount of damges awarded will be reduced in proportion to the victim’s level of fault. If a person is 50 percent or more at fault for the accident, no wrongful death damages will be awarded.
Comparative fault can be hotly disputed in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. The defense has a powerful incentive to shift blame to the victim, especially when the victim is no longer able to speak for themselves. A comparative fault defense must be counteracted with strong evidence and expert testimony.
Statutes of Limitations for a Tennessee Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death lawsuits in Tennessee generally must be filed within one year of the date that the death occurred. Once the one-year filing deadline passes, a claim for wrongful death damages cannot be filed, except in rare cases.
The one-year filing deadline makes it imperative to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. While exceptions might apply to the statute of limitations, it is best to play it safe and make sure that a claim is filed on time, since the consequences of a delayed claim are dire. Schedule a free attorney consultation today.
What You Have to Prove in a Morristown Wrongful Death Claim
To succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, the claimant must prove four elements: the existence of a duty of care; the breach of the duty of care; causation; and damages. Each of these elements is explained in greater detail below.
- Duty of Care: A duty of care is a legal obligation to avoid reasonably foreseeable harm to another. The actual duty owed from one party to another depends on the relationship between the two. Doctors, for instance, owe their patients the duty of care and treatment reasonably expected of a competent physician under the same or similar circumstances. Drivers usually owe other drivers a duty of care to operate their vehicle in the manner of a reasonably prudent person. A duty of care is not always owed, however. For example, a property owner might owe a duty of care to an invited guest, but not to a trespasser.
- Breach of Duty: Assuming that a duty of care exists, it is necessary to show that the duty was breached. Breach of duty often results from negligence but can result from an intentional action. Driving under the influence of alcohol and killing another person in a car accident is a possible instance of negligence. Running the other person off the road in an act of road rage, on the other hand, might constitute an intentional action.
- Causation: After proving duty and breach of duty, it is necessary to prove that the defendant’s negligent or intentional actions caused the wrongful death. Causation can be quite complex, depending on the facts of the case.
- Damages: The victim’s death must have caused quantifiable losses, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and mental and physical suffering. Damages may be presumed in a wrongful death case based on breach of duty and causation, but they must be demonstrated with evidence.
Leading Causes of Wrongful Death Claims in Morristown
The five leading causes of death result in nearly 1 million Americans each year dying prematurely. Among the five leading causes of death, unintentional injury ranks near the top. Unintentional injuries result in more than 30 million emergency department visits and 160,000 deaths each year. The leading cause of unintentional injury deaths include:
Many Deaths Are Preventable
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 40 percent of unintentional injury deaths are preventable. While modifiable risk factors include personal behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and lack of seatbelt use, they also include the behaviors of others, as the following statistics show.
- More than 100,000 workplace deaths per year can be prevented by stronger workplace protections. Nearly 1,000 workers are killed each year in slip, trip, and fall accidents. OSHA’s fall protection standard is the most frequently violated rule in the United States. More than 95,000 workers die each year from cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and other illnesses caused by long-term exposure to workplace hazards. Eliminating these exposures can reduce or eliminate deaths due to long-term workplace hazards.
- As many as 99 percent of motor vehicle crashes are caused at least in party by human error. Around 40,000 people die in motor vehicle traffic accidents each year. Driver inattention, distracted driving, driving too fast, illegal maneuvers, drowsy driving, and drunk driving are some of the leading causes of traffic deaths.
- Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for at least 250,000 deaths each year. This shocking finding comes from a 2016 Johns Hopkins study. Types of medical errors that kill patients include diagnostic errors, treatment errors, and medication errors.
- Consumer products are related to approximately 34,000 deaths each year. Product-related deaths are commonly caused by fires, poisonings, drownings, off-road vehicle crashes, bicycles, electrocutions, machinery, explosions, and hot objects. A manufacturer may be held liable for a product-related death if the product is defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed.
- Medical devices are linked with around 10,000 deaths per year. Many of these devices, including surgical mesh, hip prosthesis, spinal stimulators, and insulin pumps, have been the subject of mass litigation.
- Prescription drugs kill nearly 300 people in the United States each day. By one estimate, prescription medication is the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. Many of the people killed by these drugs are taking them as prescribed. Opioids are a major killer, but psychiatric drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, blood thinners, and other drugs are also major culprits. Manufacturers, distributors, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists may be held liable for prescription drug deaths.
- More than 500 Tennesseans are murdered each year on average. The intentional killing of another person can be a civil as well as a criminal matter. Tennessee allows a wrongful death case to be filed even if a criminal case for homicide has already been filed or will be filed.
Morristown Wrongful Death Lawyers Serving East Tennessee
Death is a fact of life, but before you turn the page on a loved one’s passing, it’s worth getting all facts and deciding whether a wrongful death lawsuit is merited.
The Terry Law Firm is dedicated to helping survivors get the justice they deserve. Our locally focused law firm has a long-standing tradition of heartfelt advocacy and client-centered service. Every member of the firm is committed to helping you during this difficult time.
Call us today at (423) 586-5800 to discuss a wrongful death claim with a caring and knowledgeable attorney. Your initial consultation is free, and you only pay us if we recover money for you. Contact a wrongful death attorney in Morristown now.