What Is Wrongful Death and Who Is Eligible to Recover Damages?

In Illinois, as in all states, people die every year in motor vehicle, construction and workplace accidents that are caused by others. Illinois allows the families of those killed in these accidents to recover damages for the wrongful death of their loved ones.

What Is Wrongful Death and Who Is Eligible to Sue for Damages?

Illinois law defines wrongful death as a death caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default that would have allowed the deceased to recover damages for his or her injuries in a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived. Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed in the name of a personal representative of the deceased rather than the deceased's name. These lawsuits may be brought against the individual or company responsible for the wrongful death of a loved one.

The law allows the surviving spouse or next of kin, like a child or parent, of the deceased to recover damages for his or her loved one's wrongful death. Types of damages Illinois civil courts may award to surviving loved ones include compensation for grief, sorrow and mental suffering.

If there is no surviving spouse or next of kin, the person who paid for the deceased's medical care can recover up to $450 in a wrongful death suit. In a similar situation, the individual responsible for administering the deceased's estate can recover compensation for the medical care, funeral expenses and costs to administer the deceased's estate up to $900, in addition to applicable attorney's fees.

Lastly, the state of Illinois places a statute of limitations on filing wrongful death lawsuits. Spouses or adult next of kin have two years from the time of the wrongful death to file a lawsuit against the individual or company at fault, while next of kin who were minors at the time of the death have two years from the time they turn 18 to file a lawsuit. If the individual at fault was criminally convicted for the death and ordered to pay restitution, next of kin have two years from the time the escrow account for the restitution was established to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Are Some Other Wrongful Death Lawsuit Considerations?

In Illinois, courts disperse monetary awards from wrongful death lawsuits. The amount awarded is determined according to how dependent the survivor had been on the deceased. However, other factors may contribute to the amount individuals may be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit.

While the person at fault for the deceased's death cannot use the contributory negligence of one of the beneficiaries of the lawsuit to form a defense in a wrongful death lawsuit, if the beneficiary's actions somehow contributed to the death, courts take this into account and reduce awards accordingly. For example, if a spouse's negligence somehow contributed to his or her partner's wrongful death, his or her award may be reduced.

Illinois law stipulates that if a beneficiary is found to be less than half responsible for the deceased's wrongful death, his or her award is reduced proportionately. However, if the beneficiary's negligence contributed to more than half of the death, that beneficiary is ineligible for an award. In this case, however, other beneficiaries named in the suit may be able to recover awards.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help bring closure to loved ones mourning the death of a family member. If you would like to learn more about how you may recover damages for the loss of a loved one, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.