Wrongful Death Cases: Getting Records and Filing a Lawsuit

Obtaining records in wrongful death casesThe Tennessean recently reported on a tragic story about a 17-year-old boy who died in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) while in juvenile detention.

His family tried for months to get his medical records with little or no success because he had turned 18 while in DCS custody and was no longer a minor. According to the story, the family managed to file a wrongful death lawsuit against DCS with just days to spare before reaching the statute of limitations.

Our law firm has handled several cases involving people who have died, including inmates and non-inmates. Due to privacy rules such as HIPAA, obtaining medical and non-medical records in these situations can be challenging because the deceased person is no longer able to consent to the release of those records.

By contrast, when a person is injured but survives, the person can simply request their own records, or have an attorney obtain records on his or her behalf.

Obtaining Records for Wrongful Death Cases

There are, however, a number of ways that documents and records can be obtained for a person who is deceased. Here are a few examples:

  • Opening an estate. Opening an estate for the person can allow for the executor of the estate to request various documents.
  • Open records laws. Some information can be obtained under open records laws, including the Tennessee Public Records Act and the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  • Filing a lawsuit. Documents may only be obtained by a court order once a lawsuit has been filed.

Certainly, taking legal action is often the last thing many folks think about when a loved one has died under particularly tragic circumstances. However, the law requires people in these circumstances to act quickly because many types of claims may only be filed within one year of the death.

It’s important to note that it can take quite a bit of time to successfully obtain records for a deceased person, which may be necessary to assess whether there might be a strong legal case.

If a family member or friend has passed away and you suspect there may be a possible lawsuit for wrongful death or a civil rights violation, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible to ensure you are protecting all of your remedies to obtain justice.

Image credit: Keattikorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

ABOUT Ben Raybin
Ben Raybin

A Nashville native, Ben began his legal career with Hollins, Raybin & Weissman after graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2010.

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