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Illinois Wrongful Death Cases

February 13, 2021

There is nothing more agonizing than the death of a loved one, especially when the death is due to the negligence or wrongful conduct of another. The weeks and months that follow can be among the most difficult of your life.

Family members of those who died because of another’s wrongful conduct deserve answers, accountability, and compensation — in other words, justice. Usually, the only way to obtain these things is through civil litigation — by filing a Wrongful Death lawsuit.

Wrongful death cases can be tricky to navigate. If your family has lost a loved one recently because of the negligence or wrongful conduct of another person, company, or government entity — regardless of whether it is an employer, a police officer, a doctor, or someone else — you should speak with a wrongful death attorney to explore your legal options. For now, let’s go over the basics of Illinois wrongful death law.

What is a Wrongful Death lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit refers to a legal claim filed in court to obtain compensation for the death of someone because of the negligence or wrongful conduct of another. The act causing the death may have been negligent, willful and wanton (a higher standard of liability than negligence), or even intentional.

One notable example of a wrongful death lawsuit involving an intentional act was the claim filed by the family of Ronald Goldman against O.J. Simpson. The jury acquitted Simpson on his criminal murder charge. Even though Simpson was acquitted, a civil jury later found him responsible for Goldman’s death, and awarded Goldman’s family $8.5 million in compensatory damages. After the civil verdict and the compensatory damages award, the same jury later awarded the Goldman family $25 million in punitive damages.

Illinois Wrongful Death Laws

It can be difficult to understand wrongful death claims, particularly when you are coping with a loved one’s tragic loss. Each state has its own unique laws regulating these cases. Here, we want to explore the elements of Illinois wrongful death claims to develop a better understanding the process. Illinois has strict state laws regulating wrongful death cases.

Illinois’ Wrongful Death Act provides that whenever a person dies because of the negligent or wrongful conduct of someone else, if the deceased person would have been able to sue the wrongdoer had he or she survived, then the person (or company) who wrongfully caused the death shall be liable to pay damages.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

In order to win a Wrongful Death case, the plaintiff must prove a number of elements. Specifically, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant 1) owed a duty of care to the decedent, 2) breached that duty, and 3) the breach was the cause of the death.

1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the decedent.

The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the deceased individual a duty of care. In other words, the defendant had a legal duty (or obligation) to act in a way that would not have endangered the safety of the decedent.

This can be proved in different ways. And the specific duty of care will depend on the facts of each case. For instance, for a death that occurs in a car crash, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant should have complied with traffic laws to keep other people safe.

2. The plaintiff breached that duty.

The plaintiff next needs to show that the defendant somehow breached (violated) the duty of care.

In our car crash example, the plaintiff would have to prove that the defendant did not comply with relevant traffic laws, thereby breaching (violating) the defendant’s duty of care.

3. The breach caused that harm.

After proving that the defendant 1) had a duty of care to the decedent, and that the defendant 2) breached the duty of care, the plaintiff still must prove that 3) the defendant’s breach caused the death of the decedent.

In a car accident, the plaintiff must prove that it was the defendant’s failure to obey traffic laws that caused the death of the decedent.

Who can file a Wrongful Death Case in Illinois?

According to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, all claims must be brought by a personal representative of the estate of the deceased individual. A close relative of the person who died may be the personal representative, including:

  • The deceased’s spouse
  • An adult child of the deceased
  • A parent of a minor child who has passed away

The court may appoint a personal representative who will be entitled to file a wrongful death claim if the deceased person has died without having named a personal representative for their estate plan.

What damages are recoverable?

Damages you can claim from a case for wrongful death include:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Medical costs prior to death caused by the negligence
  • Loss of services rendered by the deceased to his or her spouse and children, including education and training for children
  • Loss of consortium, which refers to the importance of the relationship between the deceased and his spouse and children
  • Lost income, benefits, pensions, or social security income that the deceased would have earned
  • Family emotional damage, also known as pain and suffering,

Time frame to bring an Illinois Wrongful Death claim

Each state sets its own time limits (known as statutes of limitations) for filing wrongful death cases. Depending on the cause of death, the identity of the defendant, and the age or disability of the decedent, the statute of limitations in Illinois will vary. This is why it is extremely important to contact a qualified wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to make sure your claim is preserved.

Consult with an Illinois Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have lost a loved one because of an accident, medical malpractice, police brutality, or any other form of negligence or wrongful conduct, consult with an experienced attorney to weigh your options and develop a strategy. You and your family deserve compensation for someone else’s misconduct.

The Law Office of Jordan Marsh can help you through this difficult time.

To help preserve and maximize your potential recovery, contact Chicago wrongful death attorney Jordan Marsh for a free consultation at (312) 401-5510, or at jordan@jmarshlaw.com.

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