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Tennessee Law Precluded Summary Judgment to Insurance Company with Regard to Wrongful Death Claim Brought Against Insured for Swimming Pool Drownings

No east Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit will be successful unless the plaintiff can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant breached at least one duty of care that was owed to him or her and that this breach of duty was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks compensation. However, proving the essential elements of negligence is just one step in the process of asserting one’s legal rights following a loved one’s death caused by another individual, a business, or a governmental entity.

The reality is that, regardless of how strong the plaintiff’s case might be, recovering fair compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death case depends heavily on whether or not the negligent party was insured. Technically, the plaintiff can pursue collection on a judgment by attaching the defendant’s assets, garnishing his or her wages, and the like, but this is usually a very slow process and one that, at best, typically yields only a fraction of the amount of money to which the plaintiff was entitled.

Because of the power of the insurance company lobbyists, jurors rarely hear a word about insurance. The insurance company would much rather jurors believe that every penny of a judgment was coming out of the defendant’s pocket – the idea being that a lower judgment will result when a person, not a big insurance company, is paying the plaintiff what he or she is due. Sometimes, however, there are cases in which the insurance company is front and center in a lawsuit.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee was an insurance company that provided a $1 million renters insurance policy to the defendant, a woman who operated a daycare out of the insured premises. The insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the woman with regard to the alleged July 2018 wrongful death of 23-month-old twins, who drowned in a backyard swimming pool while in the woman’s care. The twins’ parents were also named as defendants in the insurance company’s cause of action, and they filed a counter-claim against the insurance company.

The parties filed various motions for judgment on the pleadings and/or for summary judgment.

The District Court’s Decision

The trial court denied the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment and granted the parents’ motions for judgment on the pleadings on their counterclaim and for partial summary judgment on the insurance company’s claims. Although the insurance company attempted to rely on a purported “childcare services exclusion” in the insurance policy in order to avoid the possibility of paying out a wrongful death claim brought by the parents for their children’s drownings, the federal district court found that “non-excluded risks” concurrently and substantially caused the twins’ deaths, thus triggering the insurance company’s duty to indemnify the defendant.

While the parents will still have to prove their wrongful death claim by a preponderance of the evidence, the fact that the insurance company will have to indemnify the defendant will make it much more likely that the parents will prevail in the case, either at trial or via a settlement.

Get Started on an East Tennessee Wrongful Death Claim

If you have lost a loved one to a swimming pool drowning or other act of homeowner negligence, you may be entitled to substantial money damages for your family member’s wrongful death. To learn more about how to assert your legal rights, contact the Hartsoe Law Firm via this website or by calling 865-524-5657. Tennessee has a very short statute of limitations for negligence claims, so it’s important that you seek counsel immediately if you believe that you may have a wrongful death or personal injury claim.

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