Spires v. Simpson (Tennessee 2017)

No. E2015-00697-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. 2017)
December 2017

In a wrongful death action, a parent, who seeks recovery for the death of a child yet owes child support for that child, cannot recover any proceeds until satisfaction of the child support arrears. The mother and father in this case married and had a child. The father left when the child was young, but the parents did not divorce, and there was no support obligation for the child. The father had four additional children and owed arrears on each case. The mother died, and the father filed a wrongful death action. The child’s adoptive father and the personal representative for the estate moved to intervene and have the father dismissed from the action. They argued that under the statute the father was a parent who owed a child support obligation so he couldn’t file an action or recover any proceeds until the arrears were paid regardless that the arrears were owed for other children. The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court found that this statute applies only when a parent seeks recovery for the death of child and owes support for that child. The Court found interpreting the statute otherwise was contrary to legislative intent and created an absurd result.