Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Illinois
Wrongful Death - April 20, 2020
Family members who have lost a loved one due to the careless or negligent actions of somebody else should be able to secure compensation for their loss. The Chicago wrongful death attorneys at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates are dedicated to helping family members get through this difficult period.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Illinois
Understanding wrongful death claims can be difficult, especially when you are dealing with the painful loss of a loved one. Here, we want to discuss the various aspects of these cases so you can gain an understanding of how what the process will look like moving forward.
What is wrongful death?
Wrongful death claims arise when someone has died or has been killed due to the negligent actions of another person, business, or entity. These claims are brought by the personal representative (usually family members) of the person who was killed.
A wrongful death lawsuit is twofold. It allows for a claim to be brought on behalf of the deceased person, and it also allows for the deceased person’s family members to gain compensation for their own losses relating to how the death impacts them.
There are various ways in which wrongful death claims can arise. The team at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates regularly helps family members who have lost a loved one due to the following:
- Vehicle accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Drunk driving accidents
- Distracted driving accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Other premises liability accidents
- Faulty or defective products
- Workplace accidents
This is certainly not a complete list of the ways wrongful death cases can arise. Please speak to a Chicago wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible about the specifics of your particular case.
Wrongful death vs murder
It needs to be made clear that a wrongful death claim is different than murder charges. Murder is a criminal charge brought by prosecutors against a defendant who is involved in a dangerous crime for which a death results from the crime.
Wrongful death claims are lawsuits filed in civil court by the family members of a person who has been killed by a wrongful act. While there are many cases in which there is a wrongful death claim filed against a person who is facing murder charges (for the same death), that does not necessarily have to be the case. A wrongful death civil lawsuit can be filed regardless of whether or not criminal charges are filed for the wrongful act in question.
Perhaps the most clear example of how this works is the infamous O.J. Simpson case from the 1990s. In this situation, famous football professional Simpson was charged and tried for murder of the death of his ex-wife and her male friend. Simpson was found not guilty for their deaths criminally, but he was found liable for the wrongful death of both victims in a civil trial.
Again, criminal charges need not be filed in order for wrongful death civil lawsuit to happen. For example, if a person is killed in a workplace industrial accident, family members of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim against the business owners, even if there are no criminal charges filed.
Illinois Wrongful Death Act
Every state has specific laws that govern wrongful death claims. According to 740 Illinois Compiled Statutes 180, “Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages,” the person, business, or entity that caused the wrongful death can be held liable for damages.
What qualifies for wrongful death
In order for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, there are certain elements that need to be proven by the plaintiff before any damages can be awarded. In other words, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was negligent and that the negligence caused the death in question.
Typically, the elements that the plaintiff needs to show in a wrongful death case include the following:
- Duty of care. The plaintiff needs to establish that the defendant owed some duty of care to the deceased person. This can be established in various ways, and the level of duty of care will depend on the situation. For example, for deaths that occur in a car accident, the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant had an obligation to obey the rules of the roadway in order to keep others around them safe.
- Breach of duty of care. After a duty of care has been established, the plaintiff will need to prove that the defendant somehow breached the duty of care they owed to the deceased. Following the same car accident example above, the plaintiff will need to show that the defendant failed to obey the applicable traffic laws.
- Causation. It is not enough for the plaintiff to show that the defendant broke a law in some way or breached their duty of care. It must also be shown that the defendant’s actions directly caused the wrongful death in question. In a car accident, a defendant that runs a red light while driving impaired is not necessarily responsible for the death if the death was caused by something else, such as mechanical failure of the deceased’s vehicle.
Who can file a wrongful death suit in Illinois
According to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, all wrongful death claims must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative may be a close relative of the person who died, including:
- The spouse of the deceased
- An adult child of the deceased
- A parent of a minor child who is deceased
If the deceased person died without having appointed a personal representative for their estate plan, the court will appoint a personal representative who will be able to pursue a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful death statute of limitations
Every state is responsible for setting a time limit in which wrongful death cases must be filed. These time limits are called the statute of limitations. In Illinois, the statute of limitations for wrongful death can vary depending on the underlying cause of the death.
Civil wrongful death claims must be filed within the same timeframe established by the statute of limitations for the underlying case involved, or within one year from the date of the person’s death, whichever date is later. For example, if the case is such that the deceased person would have been able to file a personal injury claim had they lived, the wrongful death claim must be filed within two years from the date of the incident (which is the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Illinois).
Claims not made within the appropriate statute of limitations will almost certainly be dismissed and result in loved ones not being able to recover any compensation for their losses. If you have any questions about the time frames and deadlines related to a wrongful death claim in Chicago, please speak to a Chicago injury attorney as soon as possible.
Damages that can be claimed
According to 740 ILCS 180/2, any damages awarded in a wrongful death case in Illinois are to be paid “for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin of [the] deceased person.”
The law in Illinois says that the jury may award whatever damages they deem to be a fair and just compensation for losses resulting from the death. The damages are to be distributed by the court to the surviving spouse and next of kin, according to their respective levels of dependency on the deceased person.
There are two main types of damages awarded in these cases:
- Special damages (economic damages). These damages will typically be awarded to cover expenses that are calculable (through bills and receipts) in the aftermath of a person’s death. This will include:
- funeral and burial expenses
- cost of any pre-death medical bills
- lost wages that would have been earned during the lifetime of the deceased
- General damages (non-economic damages). These damages revolve around what is considered pain and suffering. This can include grief, sorrow, and mental suffering experienced by the family members of the deceased.
Are the limits on recoverable damages in wrongful death cases?
There are currently no caps on damages for how much family members can recover in wrongful death cases. Previously, Illinois had instituted a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages for wrongful death claims arising against doctors and a $1 million cap on verdicts against hospitals. These caps were overturned after it was determined that they violated the Illinois constitution.
How to file a wrongful death suit in Illinois
One of the most important things for grieving family members to understand is that they likely do not have the resources or legal experience necessary to properly pursue a wrongful death claim. These cases can become incredibly complex, and they should be handled by a skilled and experienced Chicago wrongful death attorney.
Your attorney is going to be responsible for handling every aspect of your wrongful death claim. This will include:
- Obtaining all evidence related to the incident that caused the death of your loved one. This can include photo surveillance of the incident, photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts, accident reports, and more.
- Obtaining business safety and training records for wrongful death claims against companies or other entities.
- Working with medical professionals who can assess and testify about the injuries your loved one sustained that led to their death.
- Negotiate with all parties involved, including aggressive insurance carriers, to obtain fair compensation on your behalf.
- Prepare to take your Chicago wrongful death claim to trial if the other side refuses to offer a fair settlement.
How long will a wrongful death claim take?
Understanding how long it will take to resolve a wrongful death claim can be complicated. There is no set time limit for how all these cases take after they have been initiated. Once you have started a claim within the allowable statute of limitations mentioned above, it may take some time for the case to resolve.
Most wrongful death cases are settled out of court, and these cases typically take less time than those that go to trial. However, even a wrongful death claim that does not go to trial can take a year or more to resolve. For cases that do go to trial, it may take several years before they are settled.
While it may seem like this is an incredible amount of time, please understand that it is vital for your attorney to take the time to properly investigate and pursue compensation on your behalf. At Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, we pledge to keep every client fully informed about the progress of their case.
How much does it cost to hire a wrongful death attorney?
One of the first questions family members who have lost a loved one ask is – How much will a wrongful death attorney cost?
We understand that family members who have lost a loved one may be struggling with finances. That is why, at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, we take wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that we charge our clients no upfront or out-of-pocket cost for their cases. We only collect legal fees after we secure a favorable settlement or verdict on behalf of our clients. This fee will be based on a percentage of the final settlement that we agree upon with the client before we begin working on the case.
Contact an attorney today
At Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, we are ready to investigate every aspect of your case in order to secure the compensation your family is entitled to. It cannot be overstated just how important it is to have a skilled attorney by your side to help with these cases. We understand that this is a difficult time for you and your loved ones, and we want to do our part to help you gain some closure for your loss. Contact our Chicago wrongful death attorneys today so we can get started on your case.