According to Tennessee Court of Appeals, Summary Judgment Should Not Have Been Granted in Wrongful Death Case

When a loved one’s death was caused by negligence – or even reckless or intentional conduct – by another, the family should consult with a Tennessee wrongful death lawyer to discuss the possibility of filing suit against the responsible party.

While a lawsuit cannot bring back the loved one, the monetary damages available through a wrongful death claim can help ease the financial burden caused by the loved one’s death, as well as send a powerful message to others who might be tempted to engage in such dangerous and potentially deadly conduct in the future.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the mother of a woman who died on a camping trip. The mother filed suit against the defendants, “friends “of the decedent who participated in the camping trip, in the Circuit Court for DeKalb County, alleging that the defendants  had caused the decedent’s death through negligence, recklessness, and/or intentional conduct. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendants had conspired to cover up the truth about how the decedent had passed away. The plaintiff sought compensation for the decedent’s wrongful death, as well as for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

One of the defendants filed an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, invoking her Fifth Amendment right to refrain from self-incrimination and refusing to answer many of the plaintiff’s allegations. At some point thereafter, that defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. According to that defendant’s motion, the plaintiff had failed to alleged sufficient factual allegations to support her causes of actions and her action was barred by the comparative fault of the decedent. The trial court granted that defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision on Appeal

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville reversed and remanded, holding that, based upon its de novo review of the issues, summary judgment was improvidently granted. The court also addressed the lower court’s ruling with regard to its rulings on various other motions, including motions in limine and motions to strike.

Summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings and related documents on file with the court show that there is not a genuine issue of material fact that needs to be resolved through a jury trial. In other words, a party must prove that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, based on the undisputed facts, in order to prevail on a summary judgment motion. Because the question of summary judgment is based on law, not on the facts, there is no presumption of correctness when an appellate court reviews a trial court’s grant (or refusal to grant) a motion for summary judgment.

In reversing the lower tribunal’s grant of summary judgment in the instant case, the court noted that the plaintiff had produced affidavits from several witnesses, including a private investigator and a law enforcement officer, both of whom opined that the decedent’s death was not accidental. The defendant had not offered any evidence to show that these experts’ opinions did not create a triable issue of fact.

Speak to an East Tennessee Wrongful Death Attorney

Losing a loved one is always tragic, but it is especially difficult on those left behind when the death didn’t have to happen. If you have lost a loved one because someone else acted carelessly or in a manner as to intentionally hurt your loved one, you may be able to seek financial compensation for your loved one’s death. To talk to an experienced Knoxville wrongful death attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657. Please keep in mind that Tennessee has one of the shortest statutes of limitation for wrongful death in the entire nation, so do not delay in seeking legal advice.

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