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Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

For several years now, there has been a concerted effort to limit the legal rights of those who might seek to file a Knoxville nursing home abuse lawsuit. Typically, a representative of the nursing home begins this process by asking the patient or someone in his or her family to sign “routine paperwork” that includes an agreement to arbitrate, rather than litigate, any potential claims that may arise during the patient’s care.

The patient or family member often has no idea that, by signing these admission papers, he or she is giving up the right to have a future personal injury or wrongful death case decided by a judge or jury. Instead, if a claim arises, the case will proceed in front of an arbitrator.

Arbitrators tend to be much more conservative in their awards – if they even agree that there was negligent or wrongful conduct on behalf of the nursing home or its employees – thus potentially saving the potential defendant and its insurance company a considerable amount of money in some cases. Fortunately, not every such “agreement” to arbitration is upheld in court.

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Most everyone has heard the term “file a lawsuit,” but those outside the legal profession may not fully understand what that process entails. For starters, the plaintiff must prepare a formal, written complaint setting forth the basic factual allegations, legal claims, and relief sought.

In addition to the filing of the complaint with the clerk of the court in the county in which jurisdiction is pled, the plaintiff must also file serve a copy of the complaint on the defendant(s) in the case. Generally speaking, this can be done one of two ways: by local sheriff deputies or by a private process server.

There are procedural rules, applicable in East Tennessee personal injury and other civil cases, including time limitations on both the filing of the complaint and the perfecting of service of process, that must be followed. Failure to follow these rules or meet these deadlines can be very detrimental to the plaintiff’s legal rights.

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In a Knoxville personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, several elements of damages are possible. Some of these are “economic damages,” such as medical costs and lost wages. Others are referred to as “non-economic damages.”

Non-economic damages include such things as compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of the ability to enjoy life, and loss of spousal consortium. Depending upon the law of the state in which the accident happened – and sometimes the particular claims upon which the plaintiff rests his or her case – there may be a maximum amount of damages available to the plaintiff, regardless of what his or her case would otherwise be worth.

When damages are capped in a case involving multiple defendants, disputes can arise regarding the amount that each defendant ultimately owes if the jury finds in the plaintiff’s favor. This can even be true in cases in which multiple defendants were sued but only a single defendant remained at the time of the trial.

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In cases in which a negligent driver was acting in the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of a serious East Tennessee car accident or fatal crash, the driver’s employer can be held vicariously liable for the harm that befell the accident victim. This is important because the employer is likely to have more financial resources (including a car accident liability insurance policy with considerably higher limits) than the at-fault motorist.

Obviously, the employer has an incentive to deny that the worker was “on the clock,” so to speak. However, simply denying the obvious will not go very far in avoiding a finding of liability for the employer.

In a recent case, both the employer and the employee (a father and son) denied that the employee was still acting on behalf of the employer when he crashed the employer’s car and killed a woman. Instead, they argued that the employee had planned to stop off and pick up a pizza, thereby deviating from his task and interrupting the chain of events that would have resulted in a finding of vicarious liability. Fortunately for the woman’ surviving spouse, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Discovery is an important part of a Tennessee personal injury lawsuit. During this phase of litigation, the parties exchange certain information, such as the names of factual witnesses and the opinions of potential experts. When conducted appropriately, discovery can lead to a settlement of a case. As the parties learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents’ cases, there tends to be a “meeting of the minds” as concerns at least some of the issues. However, not all discovery is conducted in a manner that aids the parties in the settlement process – especially if it happens behind closed doors and outside of the presence of the plaintiff and his or her counsel.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case addressing the constitutionality of a statute, the plaintiff was the daughter of a woman who allegedly died as a result of the defendant medical providers’ negligence. The daughter filed a healthcare liability wrongful death lawsuit, asserting that the defendants’ medical treatment of her mother fell below the applicable standard of care and that this breach of duty was the proximate cause of her mother’s death. As the lawsuit progressed, the defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(f), requesting that they be permitted to conduct interviews of certain healthcare providers who had provided medical treatment to the plaintiff’s mother but had not been named as defendants in the case. These interviews were to take place outside the presence of the attorneys who represented the plaintiff in her lawsuit.

The plaintiff objected to the defendants’ motion for the qualified protective order on the basis that  § 29-26-121(f) was unconstitutional. The trial court granted the defendants’ motions for the ex parte interviews, commenting that the legislature had overstepped its bounds in saying that “the court shall do something,” but opining that it was not a trial court judge’s place to declare a statute unconstitutional. The Tennessee Court of Appeals denied the plaintiff’s application for an interlocutory appeal, but the Tennessee Supreme Court granted her permission to seek review of the trial court’s ruling.

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Most workers in Tennessee are covered by workers’ compensation laws. However, some are not. For example, some public employees are not entitled to benefits under the same system that a fast food restaurant employee or factory worker would be covered.

In such cases, the employee (or, in a fatal illness or accident case, the worker’s family) may be entitled to some alternative type of benefits following an accident or sickness caused by the worker’s conditions of employment, but such a suit may be pursued more in the nature of a Tennessee personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit than a “regular” worker’s compensation case. Some governmental entities’ work injury coverage is administered through a third-party administrator who makes the initial decision in the case. This may be reviewed by an administrative law judge, a chancellor or circuit court judge, and, eventually, the appellate court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the widow of a city fireman who passed away in 2015. At the time of his death, the decedent had worked for the city’s fire department for some 20 years. His pre-hire physical examine revealed no signs of hypertension or other heart disease. After having completed a 24-hour workday that required him to manage calls on five separate calls, the decedent passed away within 12 hours of leaving his post. The widow sought on-the-job-injury benefits for the fireman’s death. The defendant’s third-party administrator denied the widow’s claim on the basis that no autopsy had been performed on the decedent as was required under the city’s on-the-job injury policy.

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We’re all busy these days. It isn’t surprising that many drivers attempt to “multi-task” by making phone calls or texting while driving. However, any time that a driver focuses his or her attention on something other than the road, he or she increases the chances of being in a Tennessee car accident.

Statistically speaking, about three people lose their lives in car crashes in Tennessee each day. Far too many of these accidents are caused by distracted driving, including cell phone and smart phone usage. The problem isn’t just in Tennessee, of course. Nationally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over 3000 lives are lost annually in the United States because of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving is Extremely Dangerous

A driver can be distracted by many different things – carrying on a heated conversation with a passenger, eating or drinking, and applying cosmetics or engaging in other grooming (such as shaving) are all considered to be forms of distracted driving. However, the usage of electronic devices – especially smart phones, but also navigation systems, radios, and the like – is especially problematic.

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Under Tennessee medical malpractice law, an individual who seeks to recover fair compensation (including acts of negligence resulting in a loved one’s alleged wrongful death) must provide pre-suit notice to those against whom the lawsuit will eventually be filed.

Generally speaking, failure to provide this notice can result in dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit based on failure to comply with the state’s health care liability statute. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, as the appellate court held in a recent case.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the husband of a woman who died in April 2016, following an emergency craniotomy that was performed due to stroke-like symptoms the woman suffered shortly after being released from a hospital where she had sought medical treatment for an apparent aneurysm.  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant medical providers in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, alleging that the defendants had failed to adequately and timely treat the decedent, thereby causing her various personal injuries and, ultimately, her death. Pursuant to the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121, the plaintiff attempted to provide pre-suit notice of his intent to bring a health care liability action against each defendant named in his complaint and filed his complaint within the 12o-day extension of the statute of limitations provided by the statute.

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The so-called “Opioid Epidemic” is big news these days, as more and more claims are being filed against the makers of pharmaceutical products like hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, OxyContin, Roxicodone, and Opana by both individuals and government officials.

Here in Tennessee, several attorneys general have sought to assert claims against those who make these and other opioid drugs, but of course the manufacturers have done their best to resist these efforts if at all possible.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a decision in one such matter, holding that a case previously dismissed by a state court judge could go forward against certain pharmaceutical companies under a state statute that provides a civil remedy against those who participate in the illegal drug trade. If you or a loved one is suffering from the use of such medications, a Tennessee personal injury attorney may be able to determine whether you have a claim.

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Generally speaking, a Tennessee personal injury lawsuit must be filed within the one-year statute of limitations for negligence cases if it is to survive a motion for summary judgment. This seems like a straight-forward rule, but this is not always so. For example, in some cases, exposure to a product may cause serious injury or even death, but these effects may take many years to manifest themselves.

Tennessee also has a statute of repose that places additional limitations on the plaintiff in a personal injury or wrongful death case, including one stemming from injuries caused by exposure to asbestos. In some situations, an injured person may have been exposed to multiple sources of asbestos over a multi-year period, creating further issues that must be hashed out during the litigation process.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who developed mesothelioma after working at a chemical plant in east Tennessee for approximately 20 years. He (along with his wife) filed multiple product liability claims against the defendants (an asbestos manufacturer and others), asserting claims for the defendants’ respective alleged involvement in the male plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos in the workplace.
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