My wife is suspected of killing her father. She did not do it, but the police are continuing to investigate the crime and she has been told she is a suspect. She has not been charged with any crime. Now, her mother and her sister say they are going to sue her for killing her father. Can they do that?
Under Tennessee law, your wife could be sued for wrongful death even if she has not yet been charged, tried, or convicted of the crime of murder. Murder in criminal law would be “battery” under the civil law, and a civil law suit for battery can be filed even if the criminal charges have not been filed. Damages that can be sought for battery include compensatory damages and punitive damages.
In fact, under Tennessee law a person can be found innocent of murder in a criminal case and still be successfully sued for battery arising out of the same incident. Why? Because in a civil wrongful death case the person bringing the lawsuit must only prove the that the defendant killed the decedent by a preponderance of evidence (that is, more likely than not). In a criminal case the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered the decedent. Thus, the criminal court jury could conclude that the State did not prove what it needed to send the defendant to prison but the civil court jury could conclude that more likely than not the defendant killed the decedent and award damages.
You may remember that this is what happened in the case involving O.J. Simpson well over a decade ago. The criminal jury acquitted him, but the civil jury found that he murdered Ms. Simpson and Mr. Ronald Goldman and held him liable for damages.
I am sure that your wife has a criminal lawyer helping her through this time. If she does not she should.