Understanding the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Negligent Homicide

When an individual loses their life due to the negligent actions of someone else, there may be a few types of cases that arise. Typically, we see Nashville wrongful death claims and negligent homicide claims arise in these circumstances, but these are two completely separate types of legal actions. Here, we want to review the difference between wrongful death claims and criminal negligent homicide cases.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Tennessee

When we examine Section 20-5-106 of the Tennessee Annotated Code, we can see that wrongful death in this state is categorized as any death that is caused by injuries inflicted as a result of the wrongful act or omission of another individual or entity.

There are various ways that wrongful deaths can occur. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Car accidents
  • Large truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Pedestrian or bicycle accidents
  • Medical mistakes
  • Sporting incidents
  • Premises liability incidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Defective product incidents
  • Intentional acts of violence

Wrongful death claims are considered civil actions, not criminal charges. These claims are filed by the surviving family members or the representative of the deceased individual’s estate. The goal of a wrongful death claim is to recover various types of compensation on behalf of the family members and the estate. This can include funeral and burial expenses, outstanding medical bills, the deceased’s lost wages, as well as compensation for the loss of emotional support, love, and care the surviving family members would have received from the deceased.

There does not have to be any type of criminal charges associated with the case in order for a wrongful death claim to move forward.

What is Negligent Homicide?

Tennessee Code Section 39-13-212 discusses criminally negligent homicide. This is defined as one individual causing the death of another due to their criminally negligent conduct. This is considered a Class E felony in the state of Tennessee, punishable by one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. 

This is considered one of the least serious homicide charges that a person could face or be convicted of. Typically, you will find that criminally negligent homicides occurred by accident. For example, if an individual retrieves a shotgun that they believe is unloaded from the bed of a truck and then proceeds to point it at someone and pull the trigger, only to discover it was loaded, they could be charged with criminally negligent homicide if the individual dies. This would be considered criminally negligent because the individual failed to confirm that the gun was unloaded and then proceeded to point a deadly weapon at someone and pulled the trigger. Even though this type of incident is usually a mistake, this is something that would only happen due to the negligent actions of another party.

Individuals can certainly face a criminally negligent homicide charge by prosecutors while also facing a civil wrongful death claim brought by family members or the estate of the deceased. Additionally, a civil wrongful death claim can proceed forward even if a person is found not guilty of a criminal charge related to the same death.