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Can Tennessee Law Apply to a Florida Car Accident?

In the United States, most personal injury claims are heard in state courts under state law. Each state has different laws, however, which can affect the rights of victims in different ways. There are even entire categories of personal injury claims that may be permitted but barred outright in another. This is why it is important to establish what state’s law applies to the facts of a given case.

Half-Brothers Fight Over Wrongful Death Claim Involving Mother

For example, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently had to decide whether to apply Florida or Tennessee law to a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a car accident. The accident itself took place in Florida. An elderly Tennessee couple vacationing in Florida were returning to their rental condominium when the husband, who was driving, “lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a utility pole,” according the court records. His wife died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

The wife’s son from a prior relationship filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the husband. Under Tennessee law, the adult child of a deceased person may bring such a claim in his own name. Under Florida law, however, only the executor of the deceased person’s estate can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the son was not the executor, so he could only maintain a wrongful death lawsuit under Tennessee law.

Indeed, the executor—the plaintiff’s half-brother—challenged the lawsuit on the grounds that Florida law should control. A Tennessee trial court agreed that Florida law applied and dismissed the son’s lawsuit. The son appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and decided the case could proceed under Tennessee law.

The appeals court said that in Tennessee, “there is a rebuttable presumption in wrongful death cases that the law of the place of the injury applies.” That would mean Florida law applies since that is where the accident took place, and as the Court of Appeals noted, Florida has a public policy interest in “maintaining the safety of its roads.” Nevertheless, because the son and his parents were both Tennessee residents at the time of the wife’s death, the court said Tennessee “has the more significant relationship” to the accident and the parties, and therefore its laws should control. Tennessee’s wrongful death law was therefore appropriate given the facts of this case.

Get Help from a Tennessee Car Accident Attorney

As this case illustrates, it is not always obvious at first glance what state’s law may apply to a given personal injury claim. An accident that occurs in Tennessee may be governed by the laws of a neighboring state or vice versa. Tennessee courts therefore must look at the facts and circumstances of each individual case. This is also why it is always important to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer who understands how different laws may apply to your case. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with someone about your personal injury case right away.

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