Under Tennessee law, when a person dies as a result of tortious or wrongful conduct of another person, the person’s death does not mean that tortfeasor or wrongdoer cannot be held liable. Instead, the cause of action against the wrongdoer survives the death. This type of legal claim is known as a wrongful death action.
In a wrongful death claim, the deceased’s surviving spouse is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim against wrongdoer. Or if there is no surviving spouse then the deceased’s children or next of kin may maintain the wrongful death action. Where the deceased was in the custody of the natural parents or parent and custody had not been legally surrendered or abandoned by them pursuant to any court order removing such person from the custody of such parents or parent then the parents will be entitled to maintain a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Damages Recoverable
Tennessee law provides that where a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act, fault or omission of another and suit is brought for damages then the deceased’s representatives are entitled to specific damages. These damages include compensation for:
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Medical expenses;
- Loss of deceased’s earning capacity measured from the time the person survived the injury and the death;
- Loss of wages that the deceased would have earned if the accident had not occurred; and
- Loss of consortium, which is the companionship between a husband and wife.
These damages are to be paid to the deceased’s spouse, children or next of kin. Where the beneficiary is a minor or legally incompetent them the court in its discretion may authorize all or any portion of the funds recovered for the beneficiary to be added to any trust or trusts established for the benefit of the beneficiary. The key is whether the court finds that it is in the best interest of the beneficiary. Notably, any funds placed in trust are free from the claims of creditors.
Statute of Limitations
When a person dies as a result of another person’s negligent or reckless conduct, the deceased’s representatives have a finite period within which to file a wrongful death claim. Generally, all wrongful death actions must be filed with the courts within one year of the deceased’s death. If a wrongful death claim is not filed within this time period then a court will likely not entertain the claim and the deceased’s representative will lose its right to bring a wrongful death claim. Importantly, however, there are several factors that may delay the statute of limitations and allow a wrongful death claim to be filed later than one year after the deceased’s death.