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Tennessee Wrongful Death Laws

When a person passes away due to someone's negligence or misconduct, the surviving family members may sue for "wrongful death." In this type of lawsuit, the survivors attempt to hold accountable whoever was responsible for their loved one's untimely death.

Wrongful death suits run the gamut from fatalities caused by medication errors to defectively manufactured products to stray gunshots. In one Tennessee case, a daughter tried to sue her father for causing the wrongful death of her mother in a car crash. Regardless of the underlying circumstances, a plaintiff must prove that the tragic loss of life was attributable to someone's wrongful or negligent conduct.

Read on for a synopsis of Tennessee wrongful death laws, who may file suit, the time limit, and what damages may be available.

Tennessee Wrongful Death Laws: Overview

Although only an attorney can advise you about how the law applies to your specific situation, we've prepared this "plain English" overview of key aspects of Tennessee's wrongful death laws.

Statute Tennessee Code Sections 20-5-101 through 20-5-117
Time Limit A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within 1 year of the date of the person's death, although the time limit can be extended in narrow circumstances (Section 28-3-104).
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim Generally, Tennessee allows only certain individuals to file a wrongful death lawsuit (Section 20-5-107):
  • The deceased person's spouse;
  • The deceased person's child or next of kin, if there is no surviving spouse;
  • The deceased person's parent (in some cases); or
  • The deceased person's personal representative.

Note that the perpetrator of the death, no matter who it is, is prohibited from bringing a wrongful death action or participating in the proceeds thereof

Monetary Damages Available A plaintiff can recover monetary compensation for losses including:
  • Loss of financial support;
  • Loss of companionship;
  • The survivors' mental anguish;
  • The deceased person's pain and suffering;
  • Medical bills; and
  • Funeral and burial costs.
See Section 20-5-113 for more information.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Wrongful Death Claims Versus Survival Claims

Tennessee has adopted a "hybrid" system that combines the following types of claims (based on a state supreme court ruling):

  • Wrongful Death Claims: These claims are for family members seeking compensation for their lost financial support, loss of companionship, etc.
  • Survival Claims: These claims are for the deceased person's estate and seek compensation for the deceased person's losses, such as pain and suffering. This is similar to a personal injury lawsuit that a victim who survived the injury might have brought.

Both claims are civil in nature, meaning that the standard of proof is lower than in a criminal prosecution.

Tennessee Wrongful Death Laws: Related Resources

Get a Legal Evaluation of Your Wrongful Death Claim in Tennessee

Losing a family member, particularly if it's caused by the negligence or misconduct of another, can be enormously traumatic. After beginning the process of grieving your loss, you may wish to explore whether to bring a wrongful death or survival claim against the responsible party. To learn more, speak with a Tennessee personal injury attorney near you.

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