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Third-Party Wrongful Death Claims

You expect that some occupations are dangerous to the people who perform them — police or firefighters risk their lives on a daily basis to protect and serve others, for example. Other occupations you expect to carry some risk of harm, such as construction work or factory jobs where heavy machinery can present a hazard. But tragedy can strike any person at any time, and even someone who works in a job that seems totally safe might become the victim of negligence in the course of a day’s work. A businessman could be driving to a meeting in downtown Chicago and get into a serious accident with a bus or a truck.

Most people know that workers compensation will offer some coverage when a worker is injured on the job, and many people even know that the workers compensation system will pay benefits to the surviving family of someone who is killed in a work-related accident. But what happens when someone is killed in a work-related accident that’s caused by the negligence of an outside party? In Illinois, the family of someone who dies because of another person’s negligence can pursue a wrongful death claim against the negligent party.

Workers Compensation and Fatal Work-Related Injuries

In that scenario where the businessman gets into a crash with a truck and suffers fatal injuries, the surviving family members can seek workers compensation death benefits from the businessman’s employer.

One reason to pursue the workers compensation benefits is that there’s no requirement that you prove negligence. As long as you can prove that the accident happened in the course of your loved one’s job, you can receive benefits. Another reason to pursue the workers compensation benefits is that your loved one’s employer or workers compensation insurance company should begin to pay those almost immediately, thereby lessening some of the uncertainty you’ll face after losing your family member.

However, workers compensation death benefits won’t fully compensate you for the economic losses your family has suffered with death of your loved one. Workers compensation will pay you a portion of your loved one’s average wages, but not the full amount.

Third-Party Wrongful Death Claims

When you pursue a wrongful death claim against the negligent party, you may be able to recover the full value of the loss of your loved one’s economic contributions to your family. You also may be able to recover compensation for additional damages not covered by workers compensation death benefits.

In Illinois, there are two mechanisms for pursuing compensation of damages in the event of the wrongful death of a loved one.

  • Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180 — This statute allows the next-of-kin of the person who died to file a lawsuit when the death was caused by someone’s negligence or wrongful action. Monetary damages that may be recovered under this statute include loss of your loved one’s economic support, loss of your relationship with your loved one, and the grief and emotional suffering you’ve experienced because of your loved one’s death.
  • Survival Act, 755 ILCS 5/27-6 — This statute applies when your loved one did not immediately die from his or her injuries suffered in the work-related accident, and incurred medical expenses and other damages related to the accident during the time before he or she passed away. The Survival Act allows you to sue in what’s known as a survival action to recover compensation of your loved one’s medical bills and other personal injury damages your loved one would have been able to recover if he or she had lived. Personal injury damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, or loss of normal life during the time between the accident and your loved one’s death.

Proving a Third-Party Wrongful Death Claim

A third-party wrongful death claim or survival action is completely separate from the workers compensation system and would be pursued either through the negligent party’s insurance company or through a civil court, and negligence must be proven in order to obtain compensation.

Because you’re the one making the claim, it’s your burden to prove negligence by a standard called the preponderance of the evidence, which means it was more likely than not that the other person was negligent. You must establish that:

  • An accident happened
  • The accident caused your loved one’s death
  • The person you’re suing caused the accident by either acting unreasonably or failing to act reasonably, i.e., acted negligently
  • It was foreseeable that the negligent actions could cause your loved one’s fatal injuries

How a Lawyer Can Help

If you lost a loved one in a work-related accident that was caused by the negligence of an outside party, you may end up having to deal with two separate processes for recovering the compensation your family needs and deserves. There can be a lot of bureaucracy involved in both, and a Chicago personal injury lawyer with experience handling claims involving fatal workplace accidents can take care of the details from the initial investigation to negotiating a settlement or trying the case — allowing your family the time and space you need to grieve your loss.