Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When a loved one passes away, at the fault of another, deep sorrow and hardship lies ahead for the family. The incident leading to death my have been an car accident, construction accident, accidents in public places like swimming pools, accidents in nursing homes, food poisoning, or any other unfortunate circumstance. While money is the furthest thing from the mind of the survivors, many families do end up filing what is known as a wrongful death lawsuit against the wrongdoer. This can not only cover the very real costs and financial hardships but also serves to see that justice is done and to hopefully prevent what happened from happening to someone else.

What is Wrongful Death in Illinois?

Wrongful death is a civil action against a party that wrongfully caused the death of another.  It is not a criminal case, so the wrongdoer does not face jail or fines solely as the result of the wrongful action case, but sometimes a criminal case will also be brought. The civil action instead seeks monetary damages for the exclusive benefit of the deceased’s family.

Under Illinois law, the following elements or criteria make up a wrongful death claim:

  • The incident caused a death
  • The incident was the result of a wrongful act, neglect or default. In other words, the death was caused by another person’s (or company’s or organization’s) carelessness, reckless behavior, wrongdoing or failure to do something that should have been done, as in safety violations. The incident is usually un-intentional -such as a car accident, construction accident, accident at a place of business, etc. or it could be intentional. (You may remember the wrongful death lawsuit brought against O.J. Simpson in the 1990’s for the intentional killing of his ex-wife and her friend).
  • The death directly affected the person bringing the claim and/or other members of the victim’s family
  • Financial Hardship for Survivors. This would include medical bills of the deceased, funeral costs, loss of future income into the family, etc.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Illinois?

Wrongful death cases are usually brought by a personal representative- an individual who was either named in their will or someone appointed by the court, to pursue the lawsuit on behalf of the survivors. A probate estate is opened and the court oversees the process. The survivors usually consist of:

  • Spouse
  • Parents of a minor child
  • Adult Children

The compensation awarded is usually divided by the court based upon circumstances and the level of dependency that each individual had in relation to the victim. Some avenues of compensation may be available to some of the survivors and not to others.

What does Compensation of a Wrongful Death Consist of?

The circumstances will, of course, vary from case to case but oftentimes the following items of damages are sought:

  • Pain and suffering that the deceased would have been able to bring in their own personal injury lawsuit, had he or she survived
  • Medical Bills which may have been incurred before the death (when death isn’t instantaneous)
  • Burial and Funeral Expenses
  • Loss of Support: This includes future income, employment benefits, etc.
  • Loss of Parental Guidance of the children
  • Loss of Spousal Companionship
  • Grief and Sorrow
  • Punishment (Punitive Damages) if intentional

If you believe that you may have a wrongful death claim, please be aware that there a time limits in which you must bring a lawsuit, or forever lose your rights. We can discuss your options with you so that you can move forward with dignity and hopefully minimize the financial hardship that you and the other survivors may be facing.

Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Injury & Accidents, Disability Insurance.