Question: What compensation can a party receive in Tennessee in a claim for wrongful death?
Answer: In Tennessee, the damages available in a claim for wrongful death are governed by statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-113 which establishes two categories of damages. The first type are those damages that the person who died would have been entitled to bring had they lived. Those are the injuries that person suffered from the time of the injury until their death. These damages include the mental and physical suffering of the deceased and associated expenses for loss of time, medical care, funeral expenses and other expenses.
Second, the law considers the “pecuniary value” or the money value of the deceased person. Until recently, a person was not considered “valuable” under our law unless they worked and earned money through a job or had other income. Having recognized this harshness, our courts have held that the value of a person is not defined merely by their capacity to earn money. Instead, the pecuniary value also includes human losses including the loss of consortium to the surviving family members for the loss of the deceased’s attention, guidance, care, protection, training, companionship, cooperation, affection, love and in the case of a spouse, sexual relations. The court will instruct the jury to consider factors like the age, life expectancy, earning capacity and personal habits of the deceased when determining pecuniary value.
At the conclusion of a jury trial for wrongful death, the jury faces a difficult task: they must determine the value of the life of a human being. The role of the trial attorney is to serve as a guide for the jury and to present evidence for their consideration. The jury has the power to accept or reject evidence and arguments either lawyer may present to them.
There is no mathematical formula to determine the value of the human being and the losses to the survivors. That is why we have the jury system. Every human being is different and every person has a different, unique story. Our lawmakers’ recent actions to limit the value of human life is tantamount to substituting the judgment of those lawmakers in place of the jury.