In at least some situations, a surviving spouse can properly file a pro se wrongful death complaint, because the decedent’s right of action actually “passes to” the surviving spouse under Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes.
In Beard v. Branson, No. M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Aug. 30. 2017), plaintiff’s wife died of sepsis after being treated by defendants. Plaintiff filed a pro se wrongful death action, and defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint “was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and, as a non-attorney, [plaintiff] could not file a lawsuit for another in a representative capacity.” After the motions to dismiss were filed and after the one-year statute of limitations had run, plaintiff retained an attorney, who filed a notice of appearance and an amended complaint. The trial court denied the motions to dismiss, holding that plaintiff “was permitted to file the wrongful death action pro se because, under section 20-5-106, the decedent’s cause of action passed to [plaintiff] as the surviving spouse, and the decedent had no other statutory beneficiaries.”