In an east Tennessee car accident in which someone is seriously hurt, the proper party to bring the action is usually obvious: the accident victim himself (or herself). When someone is killed in an auto accident, however, there can sometimes be a dispute about who should be allowed to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. The resolution of this issue can hinge on several factors, including the relationship between the deceased and those who seek to file suit. In some situations, other case-specific factors may also need to be considered.
Facts of the Case
In a recent consolidated action, one of the would-be plaintiffs was the surviving spouse of a woman who died in a car accident. As the husband of the deceased, this plaintiff insisted that he was the appropriate individual to assert a cause of action for the wrongful death of his late wife. The accident victim’s daughter also filed a wrongful death action, and the cases were consolidated. The Circuit Court of Sumner County held that the husband was the proper plaintiff and dismissed the daughter’s case. The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the daughter was the rightful plaintiff because there were allegations that the husband was at least partially to blame for the “road rage” incident that caused the wreck. After the daughter’s claim was reinstated by the appellate court, the husband appealed the case further to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Holding of the Tennessee Supreme Court
The supreme court reversed the appellate court’s decision and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. The court began by reciting the “plain language” of Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-5-106(a), which states that a wrongful death action “shall pass to the person’s surviving spouse.” Thus, the husband, as the decedent’s surviving spouse, had the “prior and superior right above all others” to file the lawsuit and to control the litigation. The court then went on to point out that, while a surviving spouse may waive the right to bring suit, there is no law in Tennessee implying that he or she can be disqualified from filing a wrongful death lawsuit simply because of his or her own alleged negligence in causing an accident.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Knoxville Wrongful Death Attorney
Losing a cherished loved one in an avoidable accident caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness is extremely painful. It can take weeks or months to even begin the process of healing emotionally, and some of the pain may never go away. At such a time, the last thing on the minds of those left behind may be talking to a lawyer about filing suit. Unfortunately, Tennessee has a very short statute of limitations for both personal injury and wrongful death claims, and claims not filed within this time period are usually dismissed by the court system. To talk to an experienced and compassionate East Tennessee wrongful death attorney about your loved one’s fatal accident, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657. We represent clients in Knoxville, Maryville, and the surrounding communities.
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