According to Tennessee Code, wrongful death is defined as the death of one person caused by “injuries received from another,” either through a criminal act or as a result of negligence. Wrongful death may occur following a vehicular accident or because of an incident of medical malpractice. Since the decedent is unable to file a personal injury lawsuit, the right to bring the claim passes to close family members (i.e. spouse, children, parents) or the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. In many cases, a civil suit for wrongful death is filed even when a criminal suit has been filed since the criminal and civil claims differ in several regards. For one thing, a family member or personal representative files a civil wrongful death lawsuit, while a prosecuting attorney files criminal charges. Also, the civil case is easier to prove and results only in monetary damages, while the criminal case requires a guilty verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt” and may penalize the defendant not only with fines but with imprisonment or probation.
If you have suffered the devastating experience of losing a loved one due to the malice or negligence of another, you should contact Cummings Law in Nashville where you will be given excellent legal counsel and deep compassion. Brian Cummings is a consummate wrongful death attorney with in-depth knowledge of the law and well-developed strategies to win you the most substantial settlement possible.
Damages You Are Entitled to Receive in a Wrongful Death Action
For a long time, the law in Tennessee used to limit wrongful death damages to compensation the deceased person could have received if she or he had survived the fatal injury. But in 2017, the law was amended so that the offending party is now liable for the losses of surviving family members as well. Once Cummings Law takes on your wrongful death case, we will seek monetary damages for any and all applicable losses:
- Medical expenses during the period between the infliction of harm and death
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- Pain and suffering of the deceased person between injury and death
- Victim’s loss of enjoyment of life between the infliction of harm and death
- Lost wages of the deceased between injury and death
- Lost income & necessary expenses of family members between injury and death
- Lost wages and benefits the deceased would likely have earned if he or she had lived
- Close family members’ loss of the deceased person’s consortium and companionship
It should be noted that if the deceased person’s next of kin is a minor, any recovered damages may be placed in a trust for the benefit of the minor once he or she reaches a specified age — usually 18 or 21.
In certain particularly egregious cases, the court will award punitive damages as well as compensatory (economic and non-economic) ones. Punitive damages are awarded for two reasons:  to punish the offending party for malicious, intentional, fraudulent or wildly reckless behavior and  to discourage and prevent anyone else from engaging in similarly intolerable misconduct.
Tennessee Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
All wrongful death cases in Tennessee must be filed within one year of the victim’s death. Unlike other personal injury claims, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims are measured from the time of death, not from the time of injury. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that if you don’t take action before the year is up (though it will undoubtedly be a year full of grief and nearly unbearable stress) your case will not be heard by the court. In such a situation you and other surviving family members will lose the opportunity to seek redress. Because of this statute, and because the legal process moves slowly, it is important to contact our office as soon as possible.
Caps on Damages in Tennessee
Before October 1, 2011 there was no limit on damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuits filed in Tennessee. As of that date, however, the Tennessee Civil Justice Act (with its ironic misnomer) became law. This law set a maximum amount of payable damages for all personal injury and wrongful death claims after the date the law was enacted as follows:
- Loss of consortium damages are limited to $750,000 unless the decedent had a minor child, in which case the damages are capped at $1,000,000.
- Punitive damages are limited to $500,000 or two times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
It is important to be aware that even since the Tennessee Civil Justice Act was enacted, exceptions are occasionally made. Decisions to award punitive damages above the stated limits have been made in special circumstances, such as when the defendant is found to be guilty of intentional wrongdoing, criminality, destruction of records pertaining to the case, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time the harm was inflicted.
Contact A Nashville Wrongful Death Attorney
If you have lost a loved one to wrongful death, there is no real remedy. The pain, emptiness, and longing will be with you always. Still, though the emotional burden may never be lifted, the law entitles you to be relieved of the concomitant financial burden. At Cummings Law we know the ordeal you have gone through and the anguish you continue to experience and we are here to help you stay on an even keel. Give us a call or fill out one of the contact forms on our website.