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.
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.
There are two famous cases where criminal homicide lawsuit also gave rise to a civil wrongful death lawsuit. In 1997, O.J. Simpson was found liable for the wrongful death of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, even after a criminal court had found O.J. Simpson innocent. Also, in 1999, a Tennessee jury found Loyd Jowers liable for the wrongful death of Martin Luther King Junior.
In Tennessee, the criteria for wrongful death requires that (1) the alleged victim died from the actions of the alleged defendant, (2) the alleged victim’s death was caused by the alleged defendant’s negligent or intentional conduct, (3) the alleged victim has surviving beneficiaries, and (4) monetary damages have resulted due to the death.
1. The alleged victim died from the actions of the alleged defendant.
The shooting Union County is not in dispute and would easily satisfy this element.
2. The alleged victim’s death was caused by the alleged defendant’s negligent or intentional conduct.
In Tennessee, the intentional killing is based upon battery. Battery is the intentional and unwanted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the person of another. The shooting and killing of another person qualifies as an offensive contact and battery.
3. The alleged victim has surviving beneficiaries.
Tenn. Code Ann. §20-5-107 provides that the surviving spouse — or if there is no surviving spouse, the children of the deceased or next of kin — may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. News reports indicate that the alleged victim was married with children. His spouse would be allowed to bring a wrongful death suit under the statute.
4. Monetary damages have resulted due to the death.
Interpreting Tenn. Code Ann. §20-5-113, Tennessee courts allow for two types of monetary damages. The first type includes damages to the deceased for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and funeral costs from the time of injury to the time of death. The second type of damage involves the pecuniary value of the life of the deceased.” This is probably the most important criteria. While damages will likely be found in the intentional killing of another, civil trials cost money. Any damages that may be recovered may not cover the costs of a wrongful death lawsuit. In the Union County tragedy, more would need to be known about the financial situation of the two families.
It should be noted that self defense can preclude a wrongful death suit based upon a homicide. Tennessee self defense laws are similar to the Stand Your Ground Laws in Florida. Since the shooting in Union County arose from an argument, the facts may suggest that the alleged defendant was defending his life. As with the monetary damages more would need to be known to make that determination.
Like many criminal homicide lawsuits, the facts in Union County may support a wrongful death lawsuit.
We sincerely hope and pray for all families and friends suffering from the tragic events in Union County. Losing a loved one due to the actions of another individual, can cause a lot of stress and emotional pain. Compensation for that loss can help reduce the stress and financial burden a victim or a family member may bear.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of the criminal act of another, you may be able to pursue remedies in a civil lawsuit. Please contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.
Citation for two types of damages allowed.
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