Wrongful Death

A “wrongful death” is a death due to someone else’s carelessness or negligence. Every state has a civil “wrongful death statute,” or set of statutes, which establish the procedures for bringing wrongful death actions. In most states, such persons as the decedent’s immediate family members (surviving spouses and children, and sometimes parents or siblings) may bring the action.

The Physician-Patient privilege in wrongful death actions

In wrongful death actions, the issue of the physician-patient privilege, which protects the privacy of a decedent’s medical records, often arises. The general rule is that unless the patient/decedent waives the privilege, a physician is not allowed to disclose any information acquired in attending to the patient in a professional capacity.

Without this evidence, however, the case can be hard to prove. With a Tennessee wrongful death attorney on your side, you can be assured of gathering and presenting the best evidence available for proving your case.

Wrongful deaths involving children and the elderly

No one can set a price on human life, but it is one that courts and juries are required to attempt to do so in wrongful death actions. Because the primary measure of damages in a wrongful death action is pecuniary (financial) loss, the death of a child brings up particular difficulties.

When an adult dies, the pecuniary loss to the family is more quantifiable. For example, when a parent dies, a child may seek damages for loss of the parent’s care, income, nurturing, and guidance.

When a child dies, the parents’ recovery is limited to their pecuniary loss. Attorneys experienced in handling wrongful death cases can help explain these and other legal concepts and be your best allies at this time of terrible loss.

Statutes of limitations and the discovery rule

All civil actions, including wrongful death actions, have time limits as to when they must be filed. These time limits, or “limitations periods,” are set out in laws called “statutes of limitations.” If you do not file your action before the expiration of the applicable limitations period, in most cases you permanently waive your right to recover damages. If you believe you have a wrongful death claim, contact a wrongful death attorney at once.

Settlements and damages in wrongful death cases

Wrongful death actions can be very complicated, as the wrongful acts of several parties may have contributed to an individual’s death.

Pre-trial, out of court settlements are common in wrongful death cases, because most defendants want to avoid the publicity of having caused a death. When such out-of-court settlements occur, a reduction of the wrongful death damages award issued by a judge or jury may also occur.

The plaintiff’s release of one defendant frees that defendant from liability to contribute to any other defendant, and waives his/her claim for any contribution from co-defendants. In other words, the released defendant is out of the action, and the remaining defendant(s) will pay no more than their comparative share of the culpable conduct as found by the jury.

While all of this information may seem overwhelming, an attorney experienced in wrongful death law can help make sense of legal jargon and complexities and guide you through the complicated legal maze of a wrongful death lawsuit.