Injury and Death Trial and Verdict Statistics for Nashville, Tennessee

Last week, we told you that the Administrative Office of the Courts had published the Annual Report of the Tennessee Judiciary for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013. The report provides information on the number of tort filings (lawsuits alleging personal injury or wrongful death), the number of trials and verdict information.  

Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee are in the Twentieth Judicial District. For the year ending June 30, 2013, 1,571 tort cases were filed in the Twentieth Judicial District and 1,441 tort cases were disposed of by either trial, motion, dismissal, etc. Only 66 cases went to trial in Davidson County – 35 were jury trials and 31 were bench or judge trials. Of the 66 cases that went to trial, 43 resulted in a verdict for the injured party. Here is the breakdown of the awards:

·        The vast majority of the cases (34 of them) resulted in verdicts that were less than $100,000.00. 

·        Seven of the cases had verdicts of less than $1,000,000.00 .

·        Two of the cases had verdicts which exceeded $1,000,000.00.

·        While the average verdict was $325,250.00, the average was greatly inflated by one particular verdict in the amount of $13,623,000.00, which happened to be the largest verdict in the State of Tennessee last year. 

Before anyone starts declaring a $13 million dollar verdict excessive, let me tell you the facts of the case. It was a medical malpractice case alleging negligence in the labor and delivery of a baby. Because of the medical malpractice, the baby was born permanently brain damaged and will need ongoing medical care for the rest of his life. In addition, he was permanently impaired from having any sort of normal family, social, recreational or wage-earning activities. 

If you or a loved one has been injured in Nashville and would like to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our award-winning attorneys to confidentially discuss your case, get your questions answered and have your legal rights explained to you in clear terms, contact us by calling 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787 or simply fill out this online form.

 

What Is the Maximum Amount of Damages That Can Be Recovered In A Tennessee Wrongful Death Case?

A new law in Tennessee limits the amount of damages that can be awarded in a Tennessee wrongful death case.  

Under the new law, the family of a person who has died as a result of the negligent conduct of another person or company is limited to recovery of the following types of damages"

  1. Medical bills caused by the negligence.
  2. Funeral Bills.
  3. Lost earning capacity from the time of injury to death.
  4. Future lost earning capacity reduced by future personal maintenance expense.

There is no limit on the amount of money that can be awarded for these types of  losses.  The actual amount of money that can be recovered will depend on the evidence of the amount of loss for each one of these elements of loss.

In addition, the law permits the recovery of damages for pre-death pain and suffering caused by the negligence, as well as damages for the loss of a spouse and father.  If the decedent is an unmarried child, the parents may seek damages for the loss of a child.  If the decedent is an unmarried, childless  sibling, damages may be sought by the decedent's siblings for the loss of a brother or sister.

The amount of these later losses ("intangible losses"  or "non-economic losses") is limited to $750,000, except under certain limited circumstances.  For instance, if the decedent left behind minor children, the damage cap increases to $1,000,000.  There are a few other exceptions as well.

The fact that intangible damages are limited to $750,000 (or,in some instances, $1,000,000) does not mean that your case is automatically worth at least that amount.  First, it is necessary to prove that someone negligently caused the death. Second, it is necessary to prove the amount of damages actually lost / suffered.  The damage cap on intangible losses sets a cap, not a floor, on the amount of damages.  

The Tennessee  law on wrongful death cases has changed dramatically in the past few years, and it is essential that you work with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who stays current with the law in this area.   Feel free to contact us for a free consultation about your case.  You may reach us via our toll-free number (866-812-8787 or our Contact Form. 

 

Are Burial Expenses Recoverable in a Tennessee Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Tennessee law permits the recovery of funeral and burial expenses as part of the damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The case law is unclear about whether there is any limit on the amount of funeral and burial expenses that may be recoverable.  Presumably, the law permits only the recovery of a "reasonable" amount of such expenses, but there is no fixed dollar amount or any other guidance on this issue.

Therefore, evidence of the amount of funeral and burial expenses incurred must be gathered and presented as part an effort to settle a wrongful death case.   Appropriate evidence must also be introduced at trial in the event the case cannot be settled.

Prejudgment Interest Is Not Awarded in Tennessee Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Cases

Tennessee law does not permit the recovery of prejudgment interest in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits .

However, if you win a case and a judgment is entered by the court you are permitted to recover interest on the amount of the judgment.  Under the law in effect before July 1, 2012, interest accrued at the rate of 10% per year on the amount of the judgment that is unpaid.  Now, the interest rate varies from time to time; the interest rate on judgments as of December 3, 2012 is 5.25%.

The inability to collect interest on personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits (unless a judgment is entered) is yet another reason why you want to hire a lawyer who will work to finish your case promptly.  To learn how we can help you with your case, call me at 866.812.8787 for a free consultation.   You may also complete our Contact form and we will get in touch with you.

Check here for the current interest rate on judgments in Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases.

The Difference Between "Economic Damages" and "Non-Economic Damages" in Tennessee Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases

In Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases there are two new classification of damages that cause some confusion.  The phrases, "economic damages" and "non-economic damages," were added to the law by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2011 and are applicable to all Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases that arose on or after October 1, 2011.

"Economic damages" are damages that can be readily measured in money.  They include damages like medical bills and lost income.

'Non-economic damages" are damages for pain, suffering, loss of the right to enjoy life, disfigurement, and other types of intangible losses that are not readily measurable in money.  In wrongful death cases, this classification of damages includes the loss of a parent, spouse or child.

Under the new statutes passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, jurors continue to have the power to award unlimited damages in whatever amount they find appropriate given the evidence in the case. However, the jury's right to award non-economic damages have been limited.  Despite the jury's finding on the proper amount of damages, damages for non-economic losses are limited to $750,000.  (There are a couple of circumstances where the non-economic damages are limited to $1,000,000.)  

From a practical standpoint, what this means is that the jury will announce its decision on the appropriate amount of damages and, if the amount is higher than the damage cap, the judge will reduce it.

Efforts are being made to challenge the constitutionality of this law but it is unlikely that the Tennessee Supreme Court will hear the case for several years.  

Continue Reading...

Damages That May Be Discovered in a Tennessee Wrongful Death Case

This new video explains the types of damages that can be received in aTennessee wrongful death case. The same types of damages are recoverable in all types of wrongful death cases, whether caused by a truck accident,car accident, medical error, defective product, or any other type of negligent act.

Continue Reading...

Mediation in Tennessee Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases

A mediation is formal method used to settle disputes of any kinds, including personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Mediation usually consists of each side of the lawsuit sitting down with a person who has no particular interest in the outcome of the case (the mediator) and trying to resolve their dispute.  The mediator may be a judge or a private citizen.  In Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases the mediator is a judge (not the judge that will hear the case) or a lawyer with special mediation training.

Mediation can be ordered by the court or it can be agreed to by the parties to the case.

A case does not have to be settled at mediation and the mediator is not empowered to force a settlement.  Nor does the mediator decide the case.  The mediator simply facilitates a resolution of the case by communicating about the strengths and weaknesses of the case.

A non-judge mediator is paid for his or her services.  Typically, each party pays a fair share of the mediation cost.  If there are three parties in the case the costs is divided by three.  It is not uncommon for there to be an agreement reached on how the mediation expenses will be handled before the mediation and for that agreement to be re-negotiated as the parties get closer to an ultimate settlement of the case.

Mediation was not a part of the law practice in Middle Tennessee when I started practicing law here 31 years ago.  Today, many lawsuits that are filed go through the mediation process.  And, in my experience, at least 80 percent of cases in which a lawsuit is filed are settled at mediation or are settled in the weeks following a mediation.

Mediation works the best if you have an experienced injury lawyer prepare your case for trial and does not prepare it for mediation.  By that I mean that lawyers who prepare a case to settle frequently receive lower settlements than lawyers who prepare a case for trial.  

Thus, even if you would just as soon avoid a trial and settle your case by mediation or other settlement methods, you will be best served to hire an experienced lawyer to investigate, evaluate and prepare your case.  Read our Legal Guide titled "Understanding How to Hire a Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney" to understand what you should be looking for in a lawyer in your case.

 

Continue Reading...

Damages In Tennessee Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Tennessee wrongful death lawyers can help clients recover the following types of damages in wrongful death lawsuits:(a) medical expenses; (b) funeral bills; (c) conscious pain and suffering from the date of the injury until the date of death; (d) loss of enjoyment of life between the date of injury and death; (e) loss of earning capacity between the date of injury and death; and (f) the pecuniary value of life.

The "pecuniary value of life" includes the present value of the decedent’s lost future earning capacity minus those living expenses necessary to maintain the decedent’s person so that he  or she can work. In cases involving the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of love, society and affection of the decedent. In cases involving the death of a parent, the children can recover damages for the loss of love, society, affection and guidance of the parent. In cases involving the death of a child, the parents can recover damages for the loss of love, society and affection of their child.  Each of these types of damages are included in the definition of the “pecuniary value of life.” 

 

Does Life Insurance Impact Damages Awarded in Tennessee Wrongful Death Cases?

As Tennessee wrongful death lawyers who represent the families of wrongful death victims, we are occasionally asked whether the fact that victim's family received life insurance as a result of the death impacts the amount of money that is awarded by a jury in a wrongful death case.  That answer is no - the person or corporation who caused the death does not pay less money in damages because the decedent had life insurance.

There is only one group of people and corporations who argue to the contrary, and that is health care providers.  They argue that a special law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly gives them the right to a "credit" for any life insurance paid as a result of the death.  This argument is made when the life insurance is not paid for out of the decedent's personal money and instead is provided by an employer or some other person or entity.  We believe this argument is not supported by Tennessee law and, in fact, there is no decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court that has addressed this specific issue.

For more information about Tennessee wrongful death litigation, click on any of the following links:

  1. How did the accident happen and who is to blame?
  2. Who has the right to file a wrongful death suit?
  3. What types of damages are recoverable in a wrongful death suit?
  4. If money is recovered, who gets it?
  5. What is the deadline for bringing a wrongful death suit in Tennessee?

 

Damages in Wrongful Death Cases in Tennessee

Our Nashville wrongful death attorneys have been called upon to represent the families of many people who have died as a result of the mistakes of another.   One question we are frequently asked in these cases is what type of damages may be recovered.

Tennessee law permits the following damages to be recovered in wrongful death cases arising from automobile accidents, truck accidents, medical malpractice, or any other type of event where negligence causes death:

  • medical expenses
  • lost wages from the date of injury to death
  • funeral expenses
  • pain, suffering, disfigurement, disability and loss of enjoyment of life from the date of injury to the date of death

Damages can also be recovered for what is called the "pecuniary value of life."  This includes damages for the present value of future earnings (reduced by the amount of expenses that would have been incurred by decedent to keep the decedent alive so that he or she would have been able to work) plus damages for loss of love, society and affection between the decedent and certain family members.  

The family members to be considered depends on who survives the decedent.  If the decedent dies unmarried and without children, the jury will be told to look at the loss between the decedent and his or her parents.  If the decedent died leaving behind a spouse and children, the jury will look to the loss between the decedent and his or her spouse and children.  Other rules apply depending on the family situation.

if the wrongful act giving rise to the later death arose before October 1, 2011, there is no artificial cap on damages in Tennessee wrongful death cases.  If the injury resulting in death occurred on or after October 1, 2011, Governor Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly have limited damages (other than medical expenses and loss of earnings) to $750,000.  

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule.  If the decedent left minor children, the artificial damage cap is increased to $1,000,000,  If the death was caused by a drunk or drug-impaired driver, or if the death was intentionally caused, the arbitrary cap is not applicable.  There are  a couple under very limited circumstances when the damage cap will not be applied.

How Much Is My Case Worth?

Most, but not all, prospective personal injury clients what to know the value of their case when we meet them for an initial interview.  This is almost always an impossible question to answer.  Let me explain why

Tennessee law of damages in personal injury and  in wrongful death cases includes several different factors that must be considered in evaluating a case.  (Please see our Legal Guides for a discussion of Tennessee wrongful death damages and Tennessee personal injury damages.)  At the time of our first meeting with a potential client, we will lack information about certain of the elements of damages that will permit us to make an informed judgment about the value of a case.

Let me give an example.  Assume that a client has a torn rotator cuff and is scheduled for surgery.  It is impossible to do a fair evaluation of that case until after the surgery and the physical therapy that will inevitably follow.  Why?  Because (a) the cost of the surgery and physical therapy is not known; (b) it is unknown whether there will be complications during or after the surgery (for example, a hospital-acquired infection) that will impact your medical expenses and recovery time; (c) your lost wages are not known; and (d) it is not known whether you will have any future limitations in the shoulder, which in turn impacts a claim for future medical bills, future loss of earning capacity, pain,suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Thus, I do not believe that any lawyer can truly evaluate a case at an initial meeting unless the potential client has always reached a full recovery and the liability facts are known. 

In fact, I would recommend that if you meet with a lawyer before you have reached a full recovery and he or she is willing to give you an opinion on the dollar value of your case you seek a different lawyer.  Any lawyer offering an opinion of the value of your case before you have reached full recovery is either (a) trying too hard to get you as a client and thus telling you what he or she wants you to hear or (b) is too inexperienced to be your lawyer.

Continue Reading...

Who Is Entitled to The Money Recovered in a Tennessee Wrongful Death Case?

Many people do not understand what happens to damages collected in a successful Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit.  In fact, last week I received a call from a lawyer indicating that he settled a wrongful death case and did not know how to distribute the proceeds of the settlement.

The law is relatively straight-forward.  The decedent's will does not control who gets the money recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit.  Instead, Tennessee law provides that the monies are distributed according to the law of intestate succession, that is, the money is distributed as if the person died without a will.

So, if a person dies with with no spouse and no children, his or her parents are entitled to the recovery of the wrongful death proceeds.  If the person leaves only a surviving spouse, the parents are excluded and the spouse gets 100% of the money.

 If the person dies with a surviving spouse and children, the spouse and children divide the money equally but the spouse does not receive less than one-third.  So, for example, if the person dies leaving a spouse and three children, the spouse gets one-third of the money and the surviving children each receive one-third of the remaining two-thirds.

These are the most common situations.  An experienced Tennessee wrongful death lawyer can guide you through the more complex situations.  

Is There A Limit on Wrongful Death Damages in Tennessee?

There are several types of damages in wrongful death cases.  If the case is successful, the survivor(s) can recover damages for medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of earning capacity (reduced by personal maintenance expenses) and loss of the loss, society and affection of the decedent.

For cases arising on or after October 1, 2011, damages for the "loss of love, society and affection of the decedent" are limited to $750,000.  The only exception to this rule is if the decedent leaves a minor child. In that situation, the damages for "loss of love, society and affection of the decedent" are limited to $1,000,000.

There is no limit on damages in wrongful death cases in Tennessee for cases that arise before October 1, 2011.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Continue Reading...

Is There A Limit on Punitive Damages in Tennessee Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases?

Does Tennessee have any limits on punitive damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases?

Yes, for all injuries and deaths that occur as a result of reckless or malicious acts on or after October 1, 2011.

Under the new law, punitive damages are limited to $500,000 or two times the compensatory damages awarded in the case, whichever is more.  Punitive damages are not limited in cases involving those who cause harm while under the influence of drugs and alcohol and those who intend to cause physical injury.  Punitive damages are prohibited in certain other types of cases.

If the injury or death occurred before October 1, 2011, there is no statutory limit on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.

 

What is the Minimum You Can Get From A Wrongful Death Lawsuit In Tennessee?

 My husband was killed in a wreck with a tractor trailer.  It was not his fault.  What is the minimum amount of money I can recover for his death in a lawsuit?

There is no minimum.  The amount of damages that can be recovered depends on a multitude of factors.  You can get some idea of the relevant factors by reading our legal guide, "Understanding Wrongful Death Cases in Tennessee."

Remember that under Tennessee law a wrongful death case must be filed in court within one year of the time your husband received injuries that resulted in his later death.  

Damages for Wrongful Death of a Husband in Tennessee

 My husband was killed in a car wreck in Tennessee.   He earned about $40,000 per year.  We have three children, two under the age of 18.  What damages are we entitled to receive from the person who caused the wreck?

These are the types of damages that can be recovered in Tennessee : (a) medical expenses for treatment of the injuries that resulted in death; (b) funeral bills; (c) conscious pain and suffering from the date of the injury until the date of death; (d) loss of enjoyment of life between the date of injury and death; (e) loss of earning capacity between the date of injury and death; and (f) the pecuniary value of life.

In all cases, the pecuniary value of life includes the present value of the decedent’s lost future earning capacity less those living expenses necessary to maintain the decedent’s person so that they can work. In cases involving the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of consortium of the decedent. In cases involving the death of a parent, the children can recover damages for the loss of love, society, affection and guidance of the parent. Each of these types of damages are included in the definition of the “pecuniary value of life.”

The loss of earning capacity claim can also take into account the value of your late husband's household services.   

In the event the death was caused by reckless or intentional misconduct,  you may also seek punitive damages.

The exact amount of the damages that may be recovered is dependent on the facts of the case.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you evaluate the damages after conducting a through investigation of each of the factors listed above.

Damages for Wrongful Death of Wife

My wife was killed in a car wreck.  She was not working at the time of her death but planned to go back to work when our daughter went to school.  What damages am I entitled to receive from the person who caused the wreck?

These are the types of damages that can be recovered in Tennessee : (a) medical expenses for treatment of the injuries that resulted in death; (b) funeral bills; (c) conscious pain and suffering from the date of the injury until the date of death; (d) loss of enjoyment of life between the date of injury and death; (e) loss of earning capacity between the date of injury and death; and (f) the pecuniary value of life.

In all cases, the pecuniary value of life includes the present value of the decedent’s lost future earning capacity less those living expenses necessary to maintain the decedent’s person so that they can work. In cases involving the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of consortium of the decedent. In cases involving the death of a parent, the children can recover damages for the loss of love, society, affection and guidance of the parent. Each of these types of damages are included in the definition of the “pecuniary value of life.”

The loss of earning capacity claim can also take into account the value of your late wife's services as a homemaker.   

In the event the death was caused by reckless or intentional misconduct, the family of the deceased may also seek punitive damages.

The exact amount of the damages that may be recovered is dependent on the facts of the case.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you evaluate the damages after conducting a through investigation of each of the factors listed above.

What Are Punitive Damages?

What are punitive damages?  How frequently are they awarded in Tennessee?

Punitive damages are awarded only in cases where the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, or recklessly.   Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter both the wrongdoer and others from similar conduct in the future.  

In Tennessee one must prove they are entitled to punitive damages by "clear and convincing" evidence.  This is a higher burden than applies in the typical civil case, where liability and damages must be proved by only  preponderance of the evidence.

According to Tennessee Jury Verdict Report -  Year in Review 2010 there have been punitive damages awarded in only 59 jury trials in Tennessee in the last six years.  During that period, there were over 1200 jury trials.  Thus, you can see that punitive damages are awarded in a very small percentage of cases that go to trial.

 

What Happens If I Lose An Amount at Trial Greater Than My Insurance Coverage?

I caused a car wreck and the other party was hurt.  I really don't know how badly she was hurt but her medical bills are $40,000.  The case goes to trial in about 3 weeks.  My lawyer, who was hired by my insurance company, says that the case will probably go to trial because the person who got hurt wants $125,000 to settle the case and the insurance company has only offered $80,000.  I only have $100,000 of insurance for this wreck.  What happens if the case goes to trial and the jury awards the lady who got hurt more than $100,000?

If the jury awards, say, $120,000 your insurance company will have to pay $100,000 and you will have the responsibility of paying the last $20,000. 

When you are sued for more than your insurance policy limits you should typically seek the input of a private lawyer to help you make sure that your insurance company is treating you fairly.  Your company has a duty to fairly evaluate claims against you to protect you from an excess judgment.   I do not have enough information to say if your insurance company is treating you fairly in this case but I would suggest that you seek the advice of a competent lawyer as soon as possible.

How Much Money Can You Ask For in a Lawsuit?

I was hurt in a personal injury case.  I have hired a lawyer and he has filed a lawsuit for me.  How much money can I ask for?

You have asked a question that is impossible to answer with the information you have given.   What were your injuries?  What were your medical bills?  Are you likely to have future medical bills as a result of your injuries?  Did  you lose any income as a result of your injuries?  Do your injuries impact your future earning capacity?  How have the injuries affected your ability to enjoy your life?  

There are many more questions that have to be answered.  Here are just a few.  How old are you?  Do you have any other medical conditions that affect the quality or length of your life?  What was your level of physical activity before you injury?  Where did the injury happen?  Where will your case be tried?  How did you get injured?   Who caused your injuries?  Who is the adverse lawyer?

The answer to these questions, and many more, impact the value of a case and therefore how much money you should originally seek from a jury or in a settlement demand.  The careful consideration of all of these factors is why you should seek the help of an experienced lawyer to help you.  How do you find such a lawyer?  Read here.

Is There A Cap on Damages In Tennessee?

Some states place a cap on damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases.  Does Tennessee?

No, with a couple of exceptions.  At the present time, Tennessee does not cap damages in any type of personal injury or wrongful death cases except cases filed against state and local governmental entites.  There are no caps against people or non-governmental entites.

The amount of damages in any case is determined by a judge or, if a jury is requested, a jury.  If a jury is requested, the judge reviews the jury's decision after the trial and can lower or increase the amount of damages.  Damages are rarely increased.

Can I Require the Insurance Company to Pay Interest on My Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Settlement?

I was hurt in a car wreck six months ago.  It wasn't my fault.  I have been waiting for over a year for the case to settle.  I lost three months of wages and have had to pay some medical bills that were not covered by my health insurance.  Can I get the insurance company to pay interest on my settlement?  It doesn't seem fair that they can delay my settlement and not have to pay interest.

Not under Tennessee law.   Tennessee law does not permit the recovery of interest in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.  

The only exception to this rule is if you win a case and a judgment is entered by the court you are permitted to recover interest.  Interest accrues at the rate of 10% per year on the amount of the judgment that is unpaid.  

For example, if you win a judgment of $365,000 at a jury trial in Tennessee you are entitled to collect interest of $100 per day from the date of the jury verdict until the date the judgment is paid.  If a partial payment of the judgment is made the interest is payable only on the unpaid portion of the judgment.  (Note:  you have to pay income taxes on the interest that you are paid.  Be sure to talk with you tax advisor about this.)

The inability to collect interest on personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits (unless a judgment is entered) is yet another reason why you want to hire a lawyer who will work to finish your case promptly.  

 

What Damages Are Recoverable in Tennessee for Wrongful Death?

My husband was killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver.  What damages can be recovered by me and our children?

These are the types of damages that can be recovered: (a) medical expenses; (b) funeral bills; (c) conscious pain and suffering from the date of the injury until the date of death; (d) loss of enjoyment of life between the date of injury and death; (e) loss of earning capacity between the date of injury and death; and (f) the pecuniary value of life.

In all cases, the pecuniary value of life includes the present value of the decedent’s lost future earning capacity less those living expenses necessary to maintain the decedent’s person so that they can work. In cases involving the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of consortium of the decedent. In cases involving the death of a parent, the children can recover damages for the loss of love, society, affection and guidance of the parent.. Each of these types of damages are included in the definition of the “pecuniary value of life.”

An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you evaluate and prosecute this case so that you and your children can achieve justice in this case.

Value of a Wrongful Death Case

My wife was killed in a tractor-trailer wreck.   The wreck was not her fault.  What is this case worth?

That question is impossible to answer without a great deal more information.   Was your wife working outside the home?   What was her income?  What was her age?  What was her state of health before the wreck?   How many children does she have?   Do any of those children have special needs that required her to play a bigger role in their lives after they reached the age of 18 than the ordinary adult child?  

These and many, many more questions must be answered before any lawyer can give you a reasoned opinion on the value of a wrongful death case.  

To learn more about the law of wrongful death in Tennessee, read our legal guide "Understanding Wrongful Death Cases in Tennessee."

The Other Driver Doesn't Have Enough Insurance!

I was in a bad car wreck.   I had $50,000 in medical bills and missed eight weeks of work  (I make $800 per week as a mechanic).   I am probably going to have to have another surgery.  My doctor also says I will have arthritis for the rest of my life.   I just found out that the person who hit me only has $100,000 of liability insurance.   That is not enough for what he did to me.   Can I force the person who caused the wreck to pay me out of his pocket?

A person or company is always liable for all of the harm they negligently cause.  A person purchases insurance to reduce his or her own risk of coming out of pocket to pay for that harm, but if the harm caused exceeds the amount of insurance purchased he or she is liable for the rest.  

The problem, of course, is collecting from a person who causes harm.  To make a payment to the injured person over and above the amount of insurance the person who causes harm must have assets, income, or both.   Many people have very few assets and insufficient income to make a payment to the person who they hurt.   If pressed, these people will often just file bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court will discharge the obligation.   (There are some exceptions to this.  For example, the bankruptcy court will not discharge the lawsuit-related obligation of a drunk driver or a person who intentionally harms another.) 

An experienced personal injury lawyer will help you evaluate the factors you should consider in determining how hard to press the defendant to make a personal contribution over and above the liability insurance policy available for the claim.

Can A Father Who Did Not Pay Child Support Recover Money When His Child Gets Killed in A Car Accident?

My child was killed by a drunk driver.   He was 10 years old. I want to file a lawsuit.  His no-good father, who never paid child support as ordered by the court and did not visit my son for the for the five year period after our divorce, says he is going to file a lawsuit, too.   Can he do that?  Does Tennessee law permit him to get money from the death of our son when he had nothing to do with our son when he was alive?

Unless you have some physical or mental health issue that you have not mentioned, you will have the right to bring the lawsuit. 

Tennessee law provides that a parent who has a parent who has intentionally refused or neglected to pay any support for a child for a two-year period, or for the life of the child, whichever is less, when subject to a court order requiring the payment of child support and who has intentionally refused or neglected to contact the child or exercise visitation during such period is not permitted to recover damages for the death of the child.  Thus, to cut off the father's right to money out of any recovery you make, you will have to demonstrate that (a) there was a child support order; (b) the father intentionally did not pay for at least 2 years; and (c) he intentionally did not visit the child.

At an absolute minimum you will be able to recover your unpaid child support.  Tennessee law provides that parent cannot recover damages from a wrongful death suit  until all child support arrearages have been paid in full to the parent ordered to receive the support (plus interest).    Thus,  if your child's father had visited your child within the last two years or but had not been paying child support he would have to re-pay you out of the any portion of the money he was entitled to receive.

An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you navigate through these issues.

Who Receives the Damages in a Tennessee Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

My dad was killed in a truck accident.  My mother filed a lawsuit and recovered a large amount of money.  What happens to that money?

 

Generally speaking, damages for the personal injury claim (the claim that arises from the period of time between the injury and the death) are distributed under the will of the decedent and, if there is no will, under the law of intestate succession.  The law of intestate succession is described below.

Funeral expenses are re-paid to the person who paid the funeral bills.

Medical expense monies generally must re-paid to the person or insurance company (or government entity) that paid the medical bills.

Damages awarded for the wrongful death portion of the award are generally divided between the “beneficiaries” under the law of intestate succession. For example, in a lawsuit where the decedent leaves a wife and two children behind, each of the three are “beneficiaries” under the law and each receives one-third of the pecuniary loss.

If the decedent left a wife and three children, the wife would receive 1/3 of the recovery and each child would receive an equal share of the remaining two-thirds.

If the decedent left no spouse and four children, each child would receive an equal share. If the decedent left no spouse and no children, the decedent’s parents would each receive 50% of the money.

If the decedent left no parents, spouse or children, the decedent’s siblings would split the money equally.

There are several exceptions to these general rules. For example, a parent that refused to support a minor child may lose rights to collect money if the child becomes a wrongful death victim. Likewise, a person who murders another person cannot be a wrongful death beneficiary.

Thus, under the situation you set forth above, you and your mom would split the proceeds of the case (after paying funeral bills, medical bills, etc.), assuming you do not have any siblings.  If you are still a minor the court will hold the money for you until you are 18 absent special arrangements.  An experienced lawyer can help you understand the rules of distribution of wrongful death proceeds.

 

What Damages Are Recoverable in A Tennessee Wrongful Death Trial?

My husband was killed in a car wreck.  What damages am I entitled to receive from the person who caused the wreck?

 

These are the types of damages that can be recovered in Tennessee : (a) medical expenses for treatment of the injuries that resulted in death; (b) funeral bills; (c) conscious pain and suffering from the date of the injury until the date of death; (d) loss of enjoyment of life between the date of injury and death; (e) loss of earning capacity between the date of injury and death; and (f) the pecuniary value of life.

In all cases, the pecuniary value of life includes the present value of the decedent’s lost future earning capacity less those living expenses necessary to maintain the decedent’s person so that they can work. In cases involving the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of consortium of the decedent. In cases involving the death of a parent, the children can recover damages for the loss of love, society, affection and guidance of the parent. In cases involving the death of a child, the parents can recover damages for the loss of love, society and affection of their child. Each of these types of damages are included in the definition of the “pecuniary value of life.”

In the event the death was caused by reckless or intentional misconduct, the family of the deceased may also seek punitive damages.

The exact amount of the damages that may be recovered is dependent on the facts of the case.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you evaluate the damages after conducting a through investigation of each of the factors listed above.

 

Yet Another Reason Who Should not Cheat on Your Income Taxes

My income tax returns do not include income from a second job I have been working over the last few years.  I was hurt in a wreck and missed 6 weeks of work from both jobs.  Am I going to be able to recover my lost income from both jobs?

You might, but if you push too hard you may find yourself in the situation where the IRS finds out that you are been cheating on your taxes and you may face criminal and civil penalties for your failure to report income.   Also, if the jury finds out that you have not been paying taxes as you should it may hurt your case.

Defendants in cases frequently ask for income tax returns to prove loss of earnings claims, and it your income is not reported it makes it very difficult to recover it.  This is often a problem in cases involving small business owners, who all too often understate their income and overstate their expenses in an effort to reduce their taxes.  Doing so is not only illegal but also hurts your ability to prove your true damages in a personal injury or wrongful death case.

This is yet another reason to fulfill your duty to our country and pay the taxes you owe.  None of us like to pay taxes, but the way to have your voice heard on that issue is through the ballot box, not cheating on your taxes.  To be sure, take legitimate deductions and seek tax advise as appropriate, but pay what you owe.

If you get hurt to the extent you are losing income but you have not paid taxes as required by law, tell your lawyer about it as soon as possible.   An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you with this issue.

Average Verdicts in Tennessee Car Accident Cases

 I got hurt in a car wreck. What is the average jury verdict in car wreck cases in Tennessee?

I can give you that number, but it is meaningless.

Why do I say that? Assume there were just two car wreck verdicts in Tennessee in 2009. One was a case where the person who filed suit had no treatment in the emergency room, $3000 in chiropractic treatment, and a history of prior neck and back pain. Assume that the verdict in that case was $3500.

Assume the other person who filed a lawsuit received a permanent, life-altering brain injury. Assume this person has, $1,000,000 in medical bills, $14,000,000 in future medical bills, $2,000,000 in lost wages, and will live another 60 years in a wheelchair totally dependent others. Assume that the jury verdict in that case is $70,000,000.

Given those two cases, the average verdict is just under $35,000,000. What does that tell you about  the value of your case? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Obviously, my example is a very simple one, but the point remains the same: average verdicts provide very little information about the value of any particular case. Experienced personal injury lawyers know that there a many variables to the value of a case and that it is a mistake to look at an average to determine the value of a single case.

That being said, we have some data. The Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter used its best efforts to gather all jury verdicts in Tennessee for the 12-month period ending November 30, 2009.   For that one year period there were 130 car accident cases tried in Tennessee. When the plaintiff won the case, the average verdict was $60, 552. When plaintiff wins and losses are considered, the average verdict was $43, 318. The plaintiff “won” 93 cases and lost 37 cases. 

The average verdicts have declined in the last five years. The 5-year average for plaintiff wins is $77,916. The 5-year average when one considers wins and losses for the plaintiff was $55, 144.    In the last five years plaintiffs have won 586 auto trials and lost 242. 

Let me say it again: these numbers are averages, nothing more and nothing less. They say nothing about the value of any particular case. They tell us nothing about the strength of the case or the nature of the injuries. Likewise, they do not take into account the value of cases that were settled without a trial.   Finally, they do not take into account the competence and experience of the lawyer handling the case.   And any lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you that this last factor makes a real difference in many, many cases.

Ask A Question Case Evaluation
Twitter Facebook
About John A. Day

I am a fifty-three year old lawyer who is fascinated by the law of torts. I have studied the field for over twenty-nine years. I represent plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Read More »