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Understanding wrongful death in Illinois
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Understanding wrongful death in Illinois

On behalf of Jon E. Rosenstengel

Those that have lost a close family member in an accident caused by negligence may be eligible to recover damages under Illinois law.

If a loved one is injured by someone else’s negligence, he or she has the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party to recover damages. However, what happens in such a situation if the loved one is killed? His or her sudden death may leave you with unexpected expenses such as medical and funeral bills as well as a permanent loss of income.

Fortunately, in Illinois, you would be able to recover such expenses by filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party responsible for the death. This type of lawsuit is intended to allow spouses and close family members obtain compensation for losses caused by the death. Additionally, future income or benefits that the family member would have received had the decedent lived are recoverable.

Who may recover?

The rules governing wrongful death lawsuits are contained in the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Under the act, the decedent’s spouse or children are able to sue to recover compensation. If there are no spouses or children, the decedent’s parents or siblings may file the lawsuit. Regardless of the situation, the lawsuit is filed in the name of the personal representative (or executor) of the decedent’s estate, rather than the family members.

What situations warrant a wrongful death lawsuit?

Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed in virtually any situation where one party’s negligence, recklessness or carelessness led to the death of the decedent. Examples of such situations include motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, drunk driving, defective products, unsafe property conditions and workplace accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed against any party whose negligence contributed to the death, regardless of whether it is an individual, corporation or government entity.

Sometimes the negligence that caused the decedent’s death rises to the level of a criminal offense (e.g. drunk driving). However, the disposition of the criminal case does not affect the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit or influence its outcome. Instead, wrongful death lawsuits are civil matters, which have different standards of proof and rules of evidence than criminal actions. As a result, the outcome in the lawsuit may be different from the criminal case.

What is compensable?

Under the Wrongful Death Act, eligible parties may obtain compensation for a range of losses including:

• Decedent’s funeral and medical expenses

• Loss of companionship or parental guidance

• Loss of present and future financial support (i.e. salary and benefits)

• Emotional distress

• Punitive damages in certain cases

Once the damages are recovered in the lawsuit, they are distributed to the parties eligible to recover in sums proportional to each person’s dependence on the decedent’s support. There is no exact formula for determining this, so the amount each party ultimately receives depends on the discretion of the court.

If you have lost a close family member due to the carelessness of another, it is important to immediately seek the assistance of an attorney experienced with wrongful death lawsuits to maximize your chances of a successful recovery. The attorneys at Bonifield & Rosenstengel, P.C. can advise you further of your right to recover damages under Illinois law.