Wrongful Death of a Child

wrongful death of a child attorney

Info From Wiseman Bray About the Wrongful Death of a Child

No one should have to ever think about the wrongful death of a child. As a mother of two young children, I can’t think of anything more unbearable than the loss of a child. But according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, over 57,000 children under the age of 19 die every year in the United States.

Our law firm represents parents who have lost a child due to the fault of another person or company. The legal term for a death caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing is “wrongful death.”

Who can File Suit for Wrongful Death of a Child?

In Tennessee, only certain people have the right to file a lawsuit to recover damages for the wrongful death of a child. As a general matter, the child’s parents can file suit against the responsible party.  If the parents are divorced, special rules apply. Usually, the parent with “primary custody” has the right to file suit. An administrator can also file the lawsuit. Tenn. Code Ann. Section Tennessee Code Annotated Section 20-5-106 provides that the wrongful death cause of action:

shall pass to . . .the [child’s] natural parents or parent or next of kin if at the time of death [the child] was in the custody of the natural parents or parent and had not been legally surrendered or abandoned by [the parents] pursuant to any court order removing [the child] from the custody of [the parents or parent]; or otherwise to the [child’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.

Occasionally, due to family circumstances, wrongful death cases involving children can become very complicated. Sometimes disputes arise between divorced parents or among family members as to how the case should be handled. Also, even if you aren’t the person to file the lawsuit, you may still be entitled to recover a portion of the damages awarded. Likewise, the person who files the lawsuit may or may not be entitled to a portion of the money damages awarded. An experienced wrongful death attorney can talk with you, learn about your family situation, and advise you on your potential rights.

What are the Damages in a Wrongful Death Case Involving a Child?

Damages in a case involving the wrongful death of a child are determined on a case by case basis. A jury will look at all of the facts and circumstances and make an award. Legally speaking though, the types of damages recoverable in a wrongful death case are statutory and are set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated Section 20-5-113. The general categories are:

(1)     Injuries Suffered by the Child from Time of Injury Until Death

This classification allows recovery for medical expenses, physical and mental pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and loss of earning capacity during the period from injury to death.

(2)     Incidental Damages Sustained by Child’s Next of Kin

This classification of damages includes the pecuniary value of the child’s life.  The “pecuniary value” of a deceased child’s life represents the value of the child’s probable future financial accumulations at the time of the child’s death.  To determine the pecuniary value of a decedent’s life, a court considers the following factors: life expectancy and age, condition of health, capacity for earning money through a skill, art, trade, profession, occupation or business, and personal habits regarding sobriety and industry. The amount should then be reduced by deducting the decedent’s probable living expenses had the decedent lived.

In the case of a wrongful death of a child, the analysis is a bit different. Living expenses are the costs associated with child-rearing. In the case of a very young child, estimates of the child’s future earnings and contributions are speculative at best. For this reason, it can be helpful to have expert testimony concerning the valuation of a child’s pecuniary losses.

Loss of Consortium (Filial Consortium Damages)

Pecuniary value also includes the value of human companionship. Parents of a deceased child are entitled to recover for loss of consortium.  However, these claims for loss of consortium cannot exist independently from the claim that a defendant’s negligence caused the child’s death. Thus, parents cannot recover for the sorrow and anguish endured as a result of the child’s death. Rather, the “pecuniary value” of the child’s life includes a value for the parents’ loss of consortium

In determining the amount of consortium damages, courts consider the benefits the child bestowed on the family, such as companionship, comfort, society, attention, cooperation, affection, care and love. Because it is impossible to generalize on the extent to which family members enjoy each other’s companionship and society, the measurement of a particular parent’s loss of a particular child’s consortium is decided on a case by case basis.

Punitive Damages

If the child’s death was caused by reckless or intentional conduct, parents can seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the responsible person and deter similar behavior.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Depending on the facts of the case, parents of a deceased child may be able to assert independent claims for “negligent infliction of emotional distress.” An experienced wrongful death lawyer can advise you further about this and other claims you may have.

Limits on Damages in Tennessee Due to Tort Reform

As a general rule, the most that parents can recover for “loss of consortium” damages for the wrongful death of a child is $750,000. Punitive damages are usually limited to $500,000 or two times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater. One of our Memphis wrongful death attorneys can discuss your case and explain the rules on damages in Tennessee, as well as the various limitations in effect due to Tennessee Tort Reform.

Looking for a Caring and Compassionate Wrongful Death Lawyer?

If you’d like to speak with a caring and compassionate wrongful death lawyer in the Memphis or Nashville area, please call our office at 901-372-5003. We’re not your everyday law firm. We are mothers and fathers just like you and we treat our clients like family. There is never any charge for an initial consultation or meeting.

Will I have to pay taxes on my settlement?

personal injury settlement

Will the IRS make me pay taxes on my settlement?

Many of our Memphis and Tennessee injury clients ask – will I have to pay taxes on my settlement for personal injuries?  The general answer is NO.

Here is what the IRS currently says about Settlements and Taxability:

If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in prior years, the full amount is non-taxable. Do not include the settlement proceeds in your income.

What if I did take an itemized deduction for related medical bills in prior years?

Will I have to pay taxes on my settlement if I did?  You must include in income the part of the settlement that is for medical expenses you deducted in any prior year to the extent the deduction provided a tax benefit. For detailed information on how to report this, we recommend that you speak with your accountant or tax professional.

What about settlements for Emotional Distress or Mental Anguish?

If you receive a settlement for emotional distress or mental anguish stemming from a personal physical injury or sickness, then the settlement is treated the same as a personal injury, as noted above above. However, if the settlement for emotional distress or anguish does not arise out of a personal injury or sickness, then you must include the proceeds in your income. Here is what the IRS states on this issue:

If the proceeds you receive for emotional distress or mental anguish do not originate from a personal physical injury or physical sickness, you must include them in your income. However, the amount you must include is reduced by: (1) amounts paid for medical expenses attributable to emotional distress or mental anguish not previously deducted and (2) previously deducted medical expenses for such distress and anguish that did not provide a tax benefit. Attach to your return a statement showing the entire settlement amount less related medical costs not previously deducted and medical costs deducted for which there was no tax benefit. The net taxable amount should be reported as “Other Income.”

Punitive Damages are Taxable

If you receive an actual court award of punitive damages, those proceeds are taxable and should be reported as “Other Income.”  This is true even if the award stems from personal injury or sickness.

Recovery of Lost Wages is Taxable

If your personal injury settlement is itemized to include recovery for lost wages, then that portion of the settlement is taxable and should be reported as income.  During the negotiation phase, most attorneys are careful to clarify and/or minimize, if not eliminate, any apportionment of the settlement to wages.  You would likely also receive a Form 1099 for any recovery attributable to lost wages.  [Note: Wages and/or settlements paid in connection with work comp are not taxable.]

Interest on a Settlement is Taxable

What if the other side doesn’t pay my settlement all at once? Will I have to pay taxes on my settlement if they pay me interest? Yes. Interest you are paid on any settlement is taxable as “Interest Income.”

Do I have to tell my CPA or Tax Preparer about my settlement?

We advise that you do, so that he or she can advise you on the most up-to-date reporting requirements applying to your specific settlement.

Injured and seeking legal representation?

Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We handle a wide range of personal injury cases.  Our approach to handling cases is what sets our firm apart. While some injury lawyers and firms take on hundreds of cases, and may seem more interested in quickly settling the case than seeking full and fair compensation for their client, we focus on identifying great clients and great relationships.

Victims need a lawyer with the experience, drive, and knowledge necessary to compete with the insurance companies who are handling your claim. Otherwise, you’ll end up being a victim twice, and you might not even realize it until it’s already too late. Our personal injury practice is led by Harvard-educated attorney Lang Wiseman. We know how to get fair and just results.

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