Your right to compensation for wrongful death in Illinois

Parties that have lost a family member due to someone else's act of negligence may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

You probably already know that people that are injured when someone else is negligent have the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party to recover compensation. However, if the person is killed by the negligent actions, what happens then? In this situation, certain family members of the deceased have a right to recover compensation for the death in a wrongful death lawsuit.

When is such a lawsuit appropriate?

The rules concerning wrongful death in Illinois are laid out in the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Under the act, a wrongful death lawsuit can potentially be filed any time where a person's carelessness, negligence or recklessness caused the death of another person. The act does not just apply to individuals, as corporations and government entities can also be held liable for the death in certain situations. Wrongful death lawsuits are commonly filed following deaths caused by car accidents, defective products, medical negligence, workplace accidents and drunk driving accidents.

In some cases, the responsible party's negligent act is also a criminal offense (e.g. drunk driving). In such cases, the criminal issues are disposed of separately from the wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, the outcome of the criminal case does not affect the litigant's rights or outcome of the civil wrongful death lawsuit.

Persons eligible to recover

The Illinois Wrongful Death Act limits recovery of compensation in wrongful death suits to the decedent's spouse and children in the majority of instances. However, if the decedent had no spouse or children, the parents may also file a lawsuit. In all wrongful death suits, the family members do not sue in their own names. Rather, the lawsuit is filed in the name of the personal representative of the decedent's estate.

What losses may be recovered?

Parties eligible to recover compensation can recover for a wide spectrum of losses such as:

• The decedent's medical, funeral and burial expenses

• Loss of decedent's future income

• Emotional distress

• Loss of companionship

• Loss of parental guidance

In addition to the above compensation, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the negligent conduct was intentional or egregiously reckless. Unlike other types of damages, the parties do not have to prove a loss to recover punitive damages. Instead, these damages are awarded to punish the negligent party and discourage others from repeating similar conduct in the future.

All damages awarded are distributed to the each eligible party in proportion to his or her dependence on the decedent's support. Since there is not an exact way of calculating this, the court has rather broad discretion to determine how much each party receives, based on the evidence presented at trial.

Since wrongful death lawsuits are complex and often involve difficult issues of proof, it is vital to proceed only with the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can ensure that you receive the compensation you are entitled to by law.