In an east Tennessee car accident in which someone is seriously hurt, the proper party to bring the action is usually obvious: the accident victim himself (or herself). When someone is killed in an auto accident, however, there can sometimes be a dispute about who should be allowed to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. The resolution of this issue can hinge on several factors, including the relationship between the deceased and those who seek to file suit. In some situations, other case-specific factors may also need to be considered.
Facts of the Case
In a recent consolidated action, one of the would-be plaintiffs was the surviving spouse of a woman who died in a car accident. As the husband of the deceased, this plaintiff insisted that he was the appropriate individual to assert a cause of action for the wrongful death of his late wife. The accident victim’s daughter also filed a wrongful death action, and the cases were consolidated. The Circuit Court of Sumner County held that the husband was the proper plaintiff and dismissed the daughter’s case. The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the daughter was the rightful plaintiff because there were allegations that the husband was at least partially to blame for the “road rage” incident that caused the wreck. After the daughter’s claim was reinstated by the appellate court, the husband appealed the case further to the Tennessee Supreme Court.