Who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Tennessee?

Only certain people have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Tennessee following the death of a loved one.

A wrongful death is typically defined as a fatality that occurs due to injuries the decedent suffered due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing. In Tennessee, a wrongful death could arise from a number of incidents, such as a car accident, medical mistake or defective product.

When this happens, the grieving survivors understandably have a number of matters to tend to. Chief among those may be to initiate a wrongful death claim. Here, we take a look at who may file these claims, the damages available and the short window of time people have to recover compensation.

Surviving spouse's rights

The decedent's surviving spouse has the first right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death damages. However, as the Tennessee Bar Association points out, there are several instances in which these rights may be nullified. For example, the spouse loses rights if he or she intentionally killed the deceased. Also, if the spouse had either withdrawn from the deceased within the last two years or had abandoned him or her, those rights are lost.

When the spouse is ineligible or deceased, the other parties who may file a claim are, in proper order, the following:

  • Surviving children
  • Next of kin
  • The personal representative of the estate of the decedent
  • The surviving parents when the decedent was dependent on them

It should be noted that it is possible for other eligible plaintiffs to challenge the right of the spouse to file a suit. This often arises in situations in which some type of fraud or bad faith occurs.

Filing by the deadline

Like any personal injury lawsuit, wrongful death claims have a statute of limitations on them. In Tennessee, claimants have one year from the date of the death to initiate a lawsuit. For example, if a car accident happens on a Tuesday but the person does not die until Friday, the clock would start ticking on Friday. Failing to file a claim within that timeframe could mean losing the right to recover compensation.

Available damages

There are specific damages available in wrongful death claims that do not arise in other personal injury claims. For example, plaintiffs may recover compensation to cover the cost of funeral and burial expenses, so long as those costs are "reasonable." Other quantifiable damages include compensation for the wages and benefits that are lost due to the death.

When it comes to noneconomic damages, Tennessee enables plaintiffs to seek compensation for the mental suffering the decedent experienced as well as any loss of enjoyment of life. It is also possible for the survivors to request damages for the emotional turmoil they have experienced as a result of the death. Lastly, a loss of the decedent's love and companionship may be eligible for compensation.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Tennessee.