Out of the 31 million unintentional injuries that occur every year in the U.S., approximately 130,577 result in death. When the individual dies as the result of negligence or the wrongful act of another party, the victim’s loved ones can suffer immensely both emotionally and financially. In filing a wrongful death claim, a representative is seeking damages on behalf of the deceased.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Illinois
The law regulates who can lawfully file a wrongful death claim in Illinois. Only a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is able to legally file a claim. Typically the representative is a close relative of the deceased. This includes:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased person;
- The parent, if the deceased person was a minor child;
- An adult child of the deceased person; and
- Other family members such as parents, siblings, nieces, nephews (if there is no surviving spouse or children).
In the event that the deceased did not choose a personal representative themselves, the court may appoint the personal representative.
Building a Claim
Just as in all personal injury cases, in order to be successful in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove the liability and negligence involved that resulted in the death. The elements required to do this include specifically:
- The defendant had a legal duty to the deceased person;
- There was a breach in duty on the part of the defendant; and
- The plaintiff was harmed through the wrongful death of the victim who died due to the breach of duty of the defendant.
Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Regardless of who the personal representative is of the estate, damages collected in Illinois wrongful death cases can only be collected for the “exclusive benefit the surviving spouse and next of kin of the deceased person.” Similar to other personal injury cases, the damages that can be collected in wrongful death cases include both concrete monetary expenses as well as abstract suffering. Specifically the act states that damages for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” of survivors are compensable. Recoverable damages include:
- Funeral/burial expenses – The money awarded for any costs associated with burial are usually paid to the estate as it is the estate that must pay for them.
- Medical bills – Compensation may be included for any medical expenses incurred as a result of the injuries before the passing of the deceased.
- Loss of support – Surviving family members may be awarded money to make up for the loss of financial support (wages/income) from the deceased.
- Loss of consortium – These damages are less easy to quantify, but survivors can claim damages for loss of the relationship in the form of companionship or, in the case of spouses, for their sexual relationship.
- Pain, grief, and suffering – Survivors are also usually awarded for some amount of pain, grief, and suffering, depending on the circumstances of the case.
In cases where there are multiple surviving family members that will split the award, a judge determines which amount is to be received by each entitled family member. In the decision, the judge primarily uses the strength of the relationships and dependency on the deceased family member.
Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases
Although a majority of personal injury cases must be brought to action within two years of the date the accident occurred, an exception is made for cases involving wrongful death. For wrongful death cases a claim may be filed up to a year after the date the person died. If the next of kin is a minor at the time of death, they have up to two years after they reach the age of 18 to commence an action.