In March, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued its decision in Nelson v. Myres, involving interpretation and priority of claims under Tennessee's wrongful death statute, which can be found at Tenn. Code Ann. Sec. 20-5-106. In Nelson, Mrs. Myres was killed in an automobile accident in Sumner County, Tennessee. Her husband, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, was later incarcerated for vehicular homicide.
Both Mr. Myres and Brittany Nelson, Mrs. Myres' adult daughter, filed wrongful death actions on behalf of Mrs. Myres. The Sumner County trial court dismissed Ms. Nelson's action, holding that Mr. Myres' surviving spouse, had priority to maintain the wrongful death action. On initial appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holidng that Mr. Myres had a conflict in bringing the wrongful death action, as he could be both a plaintiff and defendant (as he could be determined partially at fault) and that only Ms. Nelson's action would adequately prosecute Mrs. Myres' wrongful death.
The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed, and agreed with the trial court that Mr. Myres, as surviving spouse of Mrs. Myres, had priority to bring the wrongful death action over Ms. Nelson, as the daughter. THe Supreme Court specifically noted that Tennessee's wrongful death statute Sec. 20-5-106, expressly provides that the surviving spouse has prority over a decedent's children, to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the decedent. The Supreme Court also noted that there was no exception for the circumstances present: when the surviving spouse may be implicated as negligently causing the death of the decedent spouse. There are, however, exceptions in Tennessee law, wheree a surviving spouse may not bring a wrongful death action on behalf of their spouse, where the suriviving spouse has abandoned or intentionally killed or caused the death of the decedent.
If you have any questions about personal injury law, contact Attorney Angel Kane at (615) 444-8081.