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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal of Mother’s Suit on Deceased Son’s Behalf for Damages Arising in Car Accident

One of the foremost considerations in a Knoxville personal injury lawsuit is whether the would-be plaintiff has standing to file suit. “Standing,” in the legal sense, means that the person who is seeking redress has a right to relief under the law.

This may seem like a straightforward question, but it can be a more complex issue than one might imagine. This is especially true in cases involving persons who have passed away.

Determining who has standing to sue on behalf of a person who, had he or she lived, had the right to bring a lawsuit against an allegedly negligent individual can be a matter of statutory law in some cases. It may also be resolved based on prior case law in some situations.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent appellate case was the mother of a young man who was hurt in a multi-vehicle car accident in 2017. The son died the following year, but his death was not related to the accident. The mother, who was driving the car in which the son was riding at the time of the accident, filed suit against the allegedly at-fault defendant driver. According to the styling of her complaint, the mother sued both “individually and as the surviving mother and next of kin” of the deceased son.

The Circuit Court of Fayette County partially dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, agreeing with the defendant that the mother’s commencement of the suit as to the son’s claims was a nullity.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson reversed the circuit court’s partial dismissal of the plaintiff’s suit. There were two primary issues for the court’s consideration on appeal: 1) whether the trial court’s order constituted a final judgment in light of the mother’s voluntary dismissal of her individual claims and 2) whether the trial court acted in error in granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss the mother’s claims on behalf of her son.

With regard to the issue of whether the judgment in question was a final, appealable judgment, the court noted that, although the dismissal order may not have been final at the time it was entered, it became a final judgment when the remaining claims (brought by the mother on her own behalf) were dismissed. Because of the mother’s voluntary dismissal of her own claims, the order dismissing her claims on behalf of her son was ripe for appeal, according to the court on appeal.

As to the other issue – the propriety of the trial court’s dismissal of the right of action that had belonged to the son – the court also agreed with the mother. In so holding, the court found that the defendant had mischaracterized the nature of the plaintiff’s complaint. The defendant insisted that the action was a nullity because it was “brought in the name of a deceased person,” but the appellate court pointed out that the complaint was not filed in the name of the deceased son. The appellate court then referred to Tennessee Code Annotated ยงยง 20-5-102, -106 for the proposition that the death of a party did not cause the abatement of a cause of action. Under the relevant statutes and prior Tennessee case law, this right of action passed to the decedent’s next of kin, here his mother, the plaintiff.

To Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer in Knoxville

Being involved in a car wreck can be devastating to an individual or family. In addition to the pain and suffering of the injuries sustained in the crash, the stress and financial strain of missed work, medical bills, and other expenses caused by the collision can take a heavy toll. If you have been hurt in a crash and need to talk to an experienced car accident attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657. We handle cases throughout the greater Knoxville and east Tennessee areas.

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