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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Tennessee?

“Am I allowed to file a wrongful death claim on my loved one’s behalf?”

There are only a select few people in Tennessee who can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Are you one of them?

In the Volunteer State, wrongful death is defined as “a death that was caused by injuries the deceased incurred due to negligence or criminal wrongdoing.” For example, a fatal car accident may have been caused by negligence, or medical equipment failure could lead to wrongful death.

If you are one of the parties eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you may be entitled to compensation, but this depends on how you were related to the decedent.

Widow's rights

Are you the surviving spouse of someone who died as a result of an accident or other wrongful death?

You may be able to claim damages, but there are some mitigating factors that could take away those rights.

Surviving spouses can seek wrongful death benefits as long as none of the following statements are true:

  • The surviving spouse had withdrawn from the relationship within the past 2 years.
  • The surviving spouse abandoned the deceased through separation.
  • The deceased died as a result of the surviving spouse's intentional actions.

Ex-spouses through divorce are also not eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. When a surviving spouse can't bring a lawsuit, there are a few others who are eligible to do so.

Who else can file a wrongful death claim in Tennessee

According to the Tennessee statute, when the spouse can’t file a lawsuit, the offending party can still be sued by the following:

  • Children
  • Next of kin
  • A representative of the estate of the deceased
  • Surviving parents, if the deceased was considered a dependent

What is the statute of limitations on wrongful death claims?

The wrongful death claim must be brought within 1 year from the date of death. One thing that many claimants don’t realize is that the clock doesn't start from the day of the injury; it starts after the deceased is pronounced dead.

However, Section 28-3-104 suggests that there are a few exceptions to this limitation.

What damages can be claimed in a Tennessee wrongful death case?

The type and amount of damages you may be eligible for depends on the case and what must be covered from the death. For example, most claims are filed to cover burial and funeral costs. These are considered reasonable costs, but there may be more negotiation necessary to recover compensation for lost wages and benefits due to the wrongful death.

The specific damages in this statute are as follows:

  • Loss of financial support
  • Survivors' mental anguish
  • Decedent's pain and suffering
  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of companionship

Tennessee doesn’t put too many limits on what you can claim damages for. Surviving family members and spouses can even request damages for their own mental suffering as a result of their loved one's death.

Difference between wrongful death vs. survival claims

One of the unique things about Tennessee's approach to wrongful death is its hybrid legal system that combines both wrongful death and survival claims.

According to a Supreme Court ruling:

  • Wrongful death claims are only for family members seeking damages.
  • Survival claims are specifically classified as damages being sought by the representative of the estate. These individuals can seek pain and suffering damages.

Both are civil cases where the standard proof is not as high as it would be in a criminal court case.

Are punitive damages awarded in a Tennessee wrongful death?

Punitive damages are typically not awarded, but Tennessee provides punitive damages in some cases (as explained in TN Code § 29-39-104). Tennessee law states that punitive damages may be awarded if the claimant is able to provide crystal clear evidence that the defendant acted intentionally, fraudulently, recklessly or maliciously against the deceased. It is up to the judge to decide whether these damages are awarded.

Much of the decision is based upon whether the defendant's actions were intentional. If the court finds that the defendant's actions may warrant punitive monetary penalties, then a second hearing is held where evidence may be presented to determine the amount of punitive damages to award the plaintiff.

For example, if the defendant had any financial gain as a result of the death, there may be punitive damages awarded. In 2018, it was found unconstitutional to place limits on how much can be awarded for punitive damages, but there is still a cap on "non-economic” damages.

Are there damage caps?

If you file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in Tennessee, then you should know that there is a cap of $750,000 for non-economic damages. These are damages that specifically relate to pain and suffering that the deceased or a surviving family member has endured.

The cap is lower than the $1 million limit for the following:

  • Wrongful death of the parent of a minor child
  • Paralysis from a spinal cord injury
  • Severe burns
  • Amputation

There is one other special case where you may file a wrongful death case. Tennessee law states that a parent of an unborn fetus may file a wrongful death if the fetus was viable at the time of injury.

Is it difficult to win a wrongful death in Tennessee?

Typically, yes.

Every case is different and has separate considerations. The Tennessee wrongful death attorneys at Gilreath & Associates are standing by to answer your questions and help you navigate your case.

Contact us today for your free consultation.


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