In Neale v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, a minor child apparently suffered a serious injury to his hand while participating in an activity at a non-profit organization’s Tennessee facility. As a result, the child’s parents filed a negligence action against the organization. The parents eventually agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case, and the child’s father filed a new lawsuit against the non-profit as his son’s next friend. In his new complaint, the child’s father sought damages for his son’s physical injury, suffering, pain, medical bills, and more.
In response to the father’s case, the non-profit filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the man was prohibited from pursuing the lawsuit under Section 20-1-105(b) of the Tennessee Code Annotated. Under the law, if an injured child’s parents are not cohabiting and one parent has exclusive legal custody of the minor, only that parent has the right to bring a lawsuit. At the time of the child’s injury, the boy’s mother was his primary residential parent. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the organization’s motion. The father then filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville.
On appeal, the child’s father argued that the trial court committed error when it found he lacked standing to pursue the case because he was his son’s alternate residential parent. In Tennessee, two separate and distinct causes of action arise when a tort is committed against a minor child. One cause of action is a parent’s claim for loss of services and any medical expenses paid by the parent. The other action is for any pain, suffering, impairment, and other resulting damages suffered by the minor. After examining the plain language of the statute, the appellate court ruled that the trial court properly found the law barred the father from bringing a claim on his own behalf because he was not the child’s primary residential parent.
Despite this, the Knoxville court stated the statute did not prohibit the father from seeking damages on his son’s behalf. According to the appellate court, the statute relied upon by the trial court does not address an injured child’s right to recover damages. Since a child may not bring a lawsuit on his or her own behalf, and no rule of Tennessee law prohibited the child’s father from doing so as his child’s next friend, the Knoxville court held that the trial court committed error when it granted summary judgment to the non-profit organization on the issue of the child injury claim.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment with regard to any claims brought by the child’s father on his own behalf and reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment regarding the tort claims brought on behalf of the hurt boy.
The caring lawyers at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. help personal injury victims in Knoxville and across Eastern Tennessee recover the financial compensation they deserve based on the severity of their harm. To discuss your rights with a knowledgeable Tennessee personal injury attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or contact us online today.
Neale v. United Way of Greater Kingsport, Tenn: Court of Appeals 2015
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