Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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Medical mistakes can cause injuries or death both to the old and to the young, but some of the most heartbreaking east Tennessee medical malpractice cases involve situations in which a doctor’s mistake causes a child to either die in utero or shortly after birth.

Obstetricians fight hard against a finding of liability in such cases, urging the jury to believe that they did everything they could under the circumstances. While this may be true in some situations, it is not always so. Ultimately, it is up to the jury to decide whether a mistake was made and, if so, the compensation to which a family is entitled as a result.

Facts of the Case

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An act of medical malpractice in Knoxville, Maryville, or another region of east Tennessee can cause devastating injuries and even a wrongful death. Unfortunately, Tennessee has one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the nation, giving grieving families just one year in which to assert a claim or else have their right to recover money damages barred by the statute of limitations.

While contacting a Tennessee wrongful death attorney may be a difficult and emotionally taxing step in recovering from the death of a family member, it is vitally important that this be done as soon as possible so that the attorney can have adequate time to investigate the matter, prepare the paperwork for the claim, and file the necessary documents before the statute of limitations runs.

Those who wait too long to hire an attorney may find themselves unable to find a qualified legal professional willing to put their name and reputation on the line when too little time is left to properly research a claim. This was exactly what happened to a widower who lost his wife to an alleged act of medical negligence. He had no choice but to file the claim pro se (although he was able to retain an attorney later). Unfortunately, the family spent the next 12 years arguing about whether this action complied with the statute of limitations.

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hospital bedSeptic shock is a very dangerous, potentially life-threatening medical condition that can occur when the body attempts to fight a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. Possible complications from septic shock include heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, liver failure, or respiratory failure.

Although septic shock can be fatal, a patient’s prognosis is better if the condition is promptly diagnosed and properly treated. Time is of the essence, and any delay can hurt a patient’s chances of recovery.

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car accidentWhen someone perishes in an accident caused by another party’s negligence, the victim’s family may be able to seek compensation for their loved one’s wrongful death in a court of law. Exactly who is entitled to bring the lawsuit is largely a matter of state law, but unique situations can occur that take a particular case outside the normal statutory scheme.

A Tennessee appellate court was recently asked to determine the appropriate family member to bring a wrongful death case in a situation in which the person who normally would have had statutory priority was, himself, a possible defendant in the case.

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mapWhile some issues of law are controlled by the federal government, many are governed by the law of the individual states. For instance, tort litigation issues such as the statute of limitations, the proper parties to a lawsuit, and available damages are governed by state law.

When the law of two or more states could possibly apply to a legal dispute, the courts are called upon to make a “choice of law” decision as to which state’s law to apply. Situations exist in which a suit would not be viable in one state but would be of significant potential value in another.

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file0001977747882 morguefile hotblack.jpgIn Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Simmons, a man filed a wrongful death lawsuit after his son was tragically killed in a four-wheeler accident with a motor vehicle. According to man’s complaint, his son was being supervised by a neighbor’s adult daughter at the time of his death. Testimony offered at trial stated the child began operating the four-wheeler without permission after the woman went inside to retrieve a jacket. While the woman was inside, the boy apparently rode the four-wheeler into a nearby street and struck a car that was being driven by an unrelated man. Unfortunately, the child was killed in the collision.

Following the fatal incident, the child’s father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the property owner, her adult daughter, the property owner’s insurance company, and the driver of the automobile that was involved in the accident. Although the insurer initially defended the property owner at trial, the company sought a declaratory judgment from the court after claiming the child’s accident was not covered under the policy. Due to his interest in the outcome, the child’s father was allowed to intervene in the action. The trial court held a hearing on the matter and ultimately agreed with the insurance company. The court determined that the property owner’s coverage did not extend to the boy’s fatal collision in the roadway. After the father’s post-trial motions were denied, he asked the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Knoxville to review the lower court’s decision.

On appeal, the man argued that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact when it determined the four-wheeler was no longer on the woman’s property at the time of the fatal accident and that the court committed error when it ruled in favor of the insurance company because the policy language was ambiguous. The Knoxville court first stated the trial court’s decision should be upheld unless it is in conflict with the preponderance of the evidence. Next, the court said that an insurance policy is a contract and its terms should be construed according to their logical and plain meaning. After examining the language of the insurance policy, the Court of Appeals dismissed the man’s claim that it was ambiguous. Because the policy interpretation offered by the bereaved father was strained and the trial court properly interpreted the plain language requirements for accident coverage included in the policy, the appellate court refused to overturn the trial court’s holding.
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Last Wednesday, a church bus carrying seniors back to North Carolina was tragically involved in a fatal car accident on I-40 near Knoxville. Eight people died and several others were injured.

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According to an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, the church bus was coming from a Christian festival in Gatlinburg when the front left tire blew out, causing it to cross a median and collide with a Chevy Tahoe and then a tractor-trailer. Of the eight passengers killed, six were on the bus, one in the Tahoe, and one in the tractor trailer.

The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville received 12 of the accident patients. The recent government shutdown affected the accident, as the The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates bus accidents, was not able to investigate the accident.

Bus accidents do not occur as frequently as other types of accidents; however, they can be more tragic and heartbreaking. A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s study reported that 254 people were killed in bus accidents in 2009. All types of accidents can cause some kind of harm and grief. While there is no significant reporting of bus accidents in Tennessee, a July 2013 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study reported that 946 people were killed in car accidents in Tennessee.
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Many in Tennessee are unaware that they may also bring civil lawsuits when they are the victims of criminal activity. Family members or estates can even pursue wrongful death claims when they have suffered the loss of a loved one due to a criminal homicide.
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The Knoxville News Sentinel and other media outlets have been reporting on a tragic story where a Knox County School security officer shot and killed his neighbor in Union County. The shooting was the result of a three year long feud between the neighbors. They and their families had previously filed many actions against each other including assault, disorderly conduct, filing a false report, criminal trespass, stalking, and several protection orders.

The security officer involved in the shooting has been arrested and charged with homicide and will likely face a criminal trial. However, it is also possible that the facts in the homicide could apply to wrongful death lawsuit in a civil court.
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