When a person dies because of someone else’s careless or intentional conduct, certain surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim. In many situations, this is the only legal mechanism available to hold the negligent party responsible for the loved one’s death.
A wrongful death lawsuit may arise for a variety of reasons. Working through a complex wrongful death claim can be difficult when you are already dealing with the grief and unexpected nature of your loved one’s early demise. At Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C., we understand that no amount of money can ever bring back your loved one. However, we hope that financial compensation can help you feel a sense of justice and provide comfort during this difficult time. Contact us today to learn how we can help.
What Is Wrongful Death?
In Illinois, a wrongful death is one that is caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another person that would have given the victim the right to file a personal injury case against the defendant had they lived.
In these situations, the surviving family members may be able to receive compensation for their losses by bringing forth a wrongful death claim.
Overview of Wrongful Death Claims
It’s important to understand what wrongful death claims are and are not. First, they are civil claims. This means they are different from criminal cases. You don’t have to prove the defendant intended to kill your loved one or that they did anything criminal, like commit murder or battery. You also do not have to prove the defendant was guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Civil claims have a lower burden of proof. You simply have to show that the acts as you claim are more likely than not the truth, or what is known by the preponderance of the evidence. This is why when criminal conduct is involved, the defendant may be found not guilty in the criminal case but guilty in the civil case.
Wrongful death claims are also different from survival actions. The Illinois Survival Act allows a wrongful death victim’s estate to recover compensation the victim would have recovered had they survived, such as payment for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A wrongful death case pays the surviving family losses they suffered because of the death.
What Types of Incidents Result in Wrongful Death Claims?
Wrongful acts, neglect, or default can refer to various causes of death, including:
- Aviation accidents
- Boat accidents
- Construction accidents
- Dangerous products
- Mass shootings
- Medical malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Premises liability accidents
- Toxic exposure
- Train accidents
Wrongful death can include intentional behavior, such as acts of violence like murder and battery. Alternatively, it could refer to negligence, such as car accidents, or defective products.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action that is filed against the party legally responsible for the death. A personal representative sues for wrongful death damages for the benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin.
Who Is Responsible for Wrongful Death?
The party or parties who are responsible for a wrongful death depends on the circumstances. For example, if your loved one died in a car accident, the driver of the car, the owner of the vehicle, or the manufacturer of the vehicle could be responsible for the death if a defect was involved. In other situations, people may be working when they cause the death of another, so their employer may be responsible for their actions. Companies may be named as defendants in cases in which their actions caused the death.
An experienced Illinois wrongful death lawyer can analyze your case and determine all the parties who may be responsible for it.
Examples of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Here are some examples of common situations in which wrongful death lawsuits may be filed:
One of the most infamous examples of a wrongful death case is the one that was filed against O.J. Simpson for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. A civil jury found the former professional football player responsible for the deaths and ordered him to pay financial damages to the families even though he was acquitted of the criminal murder charges.
Suppose your loved one was driving safely, going the speed limit, and paying attention. Out of nowhere, a drunk driver slammed into them. The driver got scared and fled the scene, but they were later identified. Your family lost financial support and has suffered considerable grief because of the driver’s actions. You may have grounds to file a wrongful death claim.
Intentional or reckless conduct is not necessary for grounds for a wrongful death claim to arise. A simple mistake or negligence could be grounds for a wrongful death case, such as in the instance of medical malpractice. Your loved one’s doctor or healthcare professional likely did not intend to cause harm. Nonetheless, they may be legally responsible for a death that occurred under their watch and may be named as a defendant in a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Illinois?
Only the personal representative is allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Illinois. Your loved one may have appointed a personal representative. If not, the court can appoint someone to act in this role. The personal representative files the lawsuit, but any award or settlement money goes to the surviving spouse and next of kin.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in an Illinois Wrongful Death Claim?
In Illinois, you may be able to recover the following types of damages in Illinois in a wrongful death claim:
Economic damages are those that can be directly linked to the death and proven by some objective measure. Examples of economic damages in wrongful death cases include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of services the decedent provided
- Money, goods, and services received by the decedent’s next of kin
It is a presumption under Illinois law that a death causes substantial pecuniary losses to the next of kin.
Non-economic damages include indirect or subjective losses the surviving family may suffer, such as:
- Mental suffering
- Loss of consortium of the surviving spouse
- Loss of society
- The loss of the instruction, mortal training, and superintendence of education the children of the decedent would have received from their parent
Because these damages can be difficult to quantify, jurors are instructed to calculate these damages in an amount they consider fair and just under the circumstances.
Damages for the Loss of a Child
If a child died, it can be more difficult to quantify damages to the parents. The Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions say that jurors can consider evidence of the following to estimate damages:
- What money, benefits, goods, or services the child provided in the past and likely would have provided in the future
- The child’s age and health
- The child’s physical and mental characteristics
- The child’s habits of industry, sobriety, and thrift
- The occupational abilities of the child
- The next of kin’s grief, sorrow, and mental suffering
- The relationship between the parents and the child
Additionally, these losses must be reduced by the amounts the parents likely would have incurred if the child had lived.
A recent change in the law may allow wrongful death claimants to receive punitive damages in appropriate cases if the governor signs the bill. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant, rather than provide compensation to the victim. They are reserved for cases that involve egregious behavior of the defendant.
Proving Wrongful Death
To succeed with your wrongful death claim, you must prove the following legal elements:
- The defendant owed your loved one a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care
- The breach caused your loved one’s death
- As a result, you suffered damages
An experienced Illinois wrongful death lawyer can gather evidence to help establish your wrongful death claim.
FAQs About Wrongful Death Lawsuits
What Is My Wrongful Death Claim Work?
You might wonder about the potential value of your wrongful death claim and how the compensation may be able to benefit you and your family. There is no specific amount that is awarded in wrongful death claims. The value can be affected by various factors, such as:
- The decedent’s age, health, and life expectancy
- The decedent’s occupation, income, and work history
- Your relationship with the decedent
- The economic and non-economic damages you suffered because of the death
- The defendant’s actions
- The available insurance
An experienced Illinois wrongful death lawyer can evaluate your claim and determine its potential value.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim If the Decedent Was Unemployed When They Died?
Yes. You can even file a wrongful death claim for a child or elderly person who does not work. While the decedent’s income is one factor in determining damages, it is not the only factor. Additionally, the courts are sophisticated enough to know that people provide various benefits to their loved ones that are not only tied to their income or ability to work.
For example, they may provide instruction and moral guidance to their children. They may be stay-at-home parents who help manage the household. They may support their spouse’s business, even if they are not paid for it. There are other damages that you may be able to recover even if your loved one was not working at the time of their death.
Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Case?
Illinois wrongful death claims benefit the surviving spouse and the next of kin. If neither of these exists, the following parties can recover compensation in an Illinois wrongful death lawsuit:
- To the person who provided hospitalization or hospital services related to the decedent’s last illness or injury, not to exceed $450
- To the person who provided medical or surgical services related to the decedent’s last illness or injury, not to exceed $450
- To the personal representative for the costs and expenses of administering the estate and pursuing the wrongful death claim, including a reasonable attorney’s fee
How Do I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit requires following specific state rules. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you file a wrongful death lawsuit by:
- Investigating the case to determine who is legally responsible for your loved one’s death and should be named as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit
- Preparing necessary documentation, including a complaint and summons
- Completing legal service on the defendant(s) to provide the necessary legal notice
- Ensuring that you file your case within the applicable time limit
If you think you may have grounds to file a wrongful death case, do not hesitate. Reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer for immediate legal assistance and guidance.
Is There a Time Limit to File a Wrongful Death Case?
Yes. You must comply with the applicable time limit in the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. For most cases, this is within two years of the date of death, but there are exceptions when you may have more (or less) time to file, so it’s important to consult with a wrongful death lawyer to learn the time limit that applies in your case.
Contact a Compassionate Wrongful Death Lawyer for Assistance
If you lost a loved one because of someone else’s careless or intentional conduct, you may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, you do not have to go through this process alone. The compassionate wrongful death lawyers at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. can investigate your case, determine the at-fault parties, and pursue the compensation you and your family need. Contact us today for a free case review to discuss your situation in a caring and confidential setting.