Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MONEY IN DEATH CASES

MONEY WON’T BRING HER BACK

Wrongful Death Law in Tennessee governs the recovery of money damages when a loved one is killed due to negligence, such a car crash, accidental firearms discharge or an ATV accident. 

I understand why people say that money won’t bring back a loved one. However, money does allow the heirs the freedom to deal with their loss in the ways that seem best to them.  If that means having the largest gravestone in the cemetery, fine. If that means a trip to Europe, okay. If that means taking a year off without working, okay. I have had clients set aside a scholarship, honoring the name of the decedent.

Death in accidents sometimes occurs immediately. But, most often, some medical care is tried to save the victim. Many times, days pass in ICU. Thus, the family is often left with mountains of medical bills.

For example, a recent airlift from Tipton County to the Med was over $16,000. These medical bills from the injury prior to death are recoverable by the heirs. Of course, reasonable funeral bills are also recoverable. If wages were missed between the injury and the death later on, those can be sought.
What Tennessee calls the “pecuniary value of life” is often the most valuable part of any award, verdict or settlement. Roughly, it contains the idea of actually valuing a life, which is exceedingly hard to do.

So how do we value a life in Tennessee? The most obvious number is the loss of income for the life that was taken away.  Even a regular worker, making $25,000 a year for an expected 40 years will earn a million dollars!  However, it is important to understand that no one will award that number without some additional figuring.

As we all know, we do not keep all we earn. Much is spent paying for living. This amount, called “personal maintenance,” must be deducted to get that value. But we also know that life is more than money. What about companionship?  The loss involves the permanent (earthly) end to loving and supportive relationships in the family.

Let’s say a sleeping truck driver hits a young nurse walking on the sidewalk. Further, assume she lived 21 days in ICU before succumbing to her injuries. If she was married, her surviving husband may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the trucking company and driver.
The recovery should include the medical and funeral bills, and the 3 weeks of lost nursing income.  Her future earnings (minus the costs of  “personal maintenance” would also be recovered. Finally, the husband would seek the hard-to-value amount of the “loss of the consortium” (marital companionship) of his deceased wife. If they had kids, he can sue in Tennessee on behalf of the children for their loss of a mother in the future years.


Money will not bring back a victim. But it can bring a measure of justice to the family and often provide some peace through financial freedom.