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.