In some cases, the negligence or wrongdoing of another person may result in the death of a victim before the victim has a chance to pursue legal action against those individuals responsible for the death. For surviving spouses or children, recovery is still possible through a wrongful death action. These actions can be very important in helping secure the financial stability of survivors.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits allow surviving spouses and children of individuals who die as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another person to recover monetary damages from the person responsible for the death. A wrongful death claim is usually brought by the representative of the decedent’s estate on behalf of the survivors. The survivors are called the “real parties in interest.” For the claim to be successful, the plaintiffs must demonstrate the death would not have occurred but for the actions of the defendant.
The two possible damage awards for wrongful death actions include economic and non-economic. Economic damages are tangible or the actual financial costs of the decedent’s death. They may include costs like lost expected future earnings or medical and funeral expenses. Non-economic damages are for items like mental anguish or pain and suffering. While these damages are often more difficult to determine than economic damages, they may result in much greater awards.
One other form of damages that you may hear about are punitive damages. This type of damage is intended to punish the defendant for exceptionally bad conduct. However, punitive damages are not available to survivors in wrongful death actions in Illinois.
Under Illinois law, a jury may award damages that they deem as being fair and just “compensation with reference to the pecuniary injuries resulting from death, including damages for grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.” Pecuniary damages are economic, like a decedent’s wages or the costs of the funeral. “Grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” refer to non-economic damages.
Another important issue to be aware of is the statute of limitations. In most cases, the wrongful death action must be filed within two years after the death of the decedent. However, an action against a defendant arising from a crime committed by a defendant in whose name an escrow account was established under the Criminal Victims’ Escrow Account Act must be filed within two years after the establishment of the account.
If negligence is the cause of action for the decedent’s death, contributory negligence must be considered. While contributory negligence is not a defense for the defendant, if the decedent’s death was caused in whole or in part by the decedent’s actions, the damage award is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the decedent. Therefore, the recovery amount may be reduced in some cases.
If you would like more information about the possible methods of recovery for injuries you or a loved one have suffered, speak with an experienced Illinois personal injury law attorney today. Our firm proudly serves the communities of the northwest suburbs, including areas such as Crystal Lake, Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, and Deer Park.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.