Killen, AL asked in Car Accidents and Wrongful Death for Tennessee

Q: What family members have right to sue for wrongful death in Tennessee?

My sister was killed in a car crash in Tennessee. The driver is being charged with vehicular and reckless homicide. My sister (33) did not have a spouse or children. So who can sue for wrongful death? Can it be my dad, myself and my other sister together? Or is just my dad?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Mr. James Charles Wright
Mr. James Charles Wright
  • Personal Injury Lawyer
  • Knoxville, TN
  • Licensed in Tennessee

A: I am very sorry for your loss. The statutory answer is in the below statute. I would suggest creating an estate and having the personal representative file any action. Beyond this Tennessee has a one-year statute of limitations. So be careful and don't let the time run on a claim.

20-5-106. Injury resulting in death — Succession to cause of action — Beneficiaries.

(a) The right of action that a person who dies from injuries received from another, or whose death is caused by the wrongful act, omission, or killing by another, would have had against the wrongdoer, in case death had not ensued, shall not abate or be extinguished by the person's death but shall pass to the person's surviving spouse and, in case there is no surviving spouse, to the person's children or next of kin; to the person's personal representative, for the benefit of the person's surviving spouse or next of kin; to the person's natural parents or parent or next of kin if at the time of death decedent was in the custody of the natural parents or parent and had not been legally surrendered or abandoned by them pursuant to any court order removing such person from the custody of such parents or parent; or otherwise to the person's legally adoptive parents or parent, or to the administrator for the use and benefit of the adoptive parents or parent; the funds recovered in either case to be free from the claims of creditors.

(b) In any case involving a beneficiary who is a minor or who is legally incompetent, if the court finds it is in the best interest of the beneficiary, the court in its discretion may authorize all or any portion of the funds recovered for the beneficiary to be added to any trust or trusts established for the benefit of the beneficiary, wherever situated, whether the trust was created by the person whose death was caused by the wrongful action or omission or by any other person. The funds recovered shall be for the benefit of the beneficiary and shall be free from the claims of creditors.


(1) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the right to institute and the right to collect any proceeds from a wrongful death action granted by this section to a surviving spouse shall be waived, if the children or next of kin establish the surviving spouse has abandoned the deceased spouse as described in § 36-4-101(a)(13) or otherwise willfully withdrawn for a period of two (2) years.

(2) If the period of two (2) years has passed since the time of abandonment or willful withdrawal, then there is created a rebuttable presumption that the surviving spouse abandoned the deceased spouse for purposes of this section.

(3) In an action under this section, the child or next of kin shall serve the surviving spouse with process as provided in the rules of civil procedure or by constructive service as may otherwise be provided by law.

(d) As used in this section, the word “person” includes an unborn child at any stage of gestation in utero.

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