At the center of a wrongful death lawsuit is the idea that the life of your lost loved one has value. Illinois law recognizes that when a member of your family dies, that loss can have a profound effect on how your family functions. For example, many two-parent families rely on both parents holding jobs to keep the family afloat financially. The loss of one of those incomes can be devastating to the family’s ability to pay the mortgage or keep food on the table.
When your spouse dies, you may be left juggling the pressures of holding a full-time job to pay the bills while also having to figure out how to pick up the kids from school, make dinner, and get the kids to extracurricular activities. Suddenly you’re doing everything in the household alone — functions that once were filled by two people who had each other for love and support in the midst of the whirlwind of family life.
There also may be medical bills if your loved one was injured before he or she passed away, and then there are funeral expenses and burial or cremation expenses.
When a person’s life is ended through negligence or an intentional act, the law says that you have a right to be compensated for what you’ve lost. There are a few laws that address how to accomplish that in Illinois. This page provides an overview of how some of those laws work, but every individual circumstance is different and all of these statutes won’t apply to every case. An experienced Illinois wrongful death lawyer can go over the circumstances of your case and explain to you how each of these may apply, and what your possibilities are for recovering different types of recoverable damages.
Wrongful Death Act — 740 ILCS 180
Illinois’ Wrongful Death Act is the law that most often will apply when an individual dies through another’s negligence, wrongful action, or professional malpractice. The act creates a cause of action — or in other words the basis for a lawsuit — for the personal representative of the spouse or next-of-kin of a person who died because of tortious injury. The statute allows for recovery of what are known as “pecuniary damages,” or in other words monetary damages. Monetary damages generally include:
- Loss of support: The loss of your loved one’s economic contributions to your family, which includes the value of future wages he or she would have earned and contributed to your family.
- Loss of consortium: This is a fuzzier concept and includes the loss of various aspects of your relationship with the person who died. This may include a claim for the loss of your loved one’s companionship, or if the person who died was your spouse it may include a claim for loss of the sexual relationship you had.
- Grief, sorrow and mental suffering: Recovery for emotional damages is a relatively recent expansion of wrongful death law in Illinois. The Wrongful Death Act was amended in 2007 to include recovery for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” but as a matter of practicality it can be very difficult to convince an insurance company to include payment for these kinds of damages in a settlement, or to convince a jury to award payment for emotional suffering if the wrongful death case goes to trial.
Survival Act — 755 ILCS 5/27-6
Sometimes an accident or incident of medical malpractice doesn’t result in immediate death. The person survives for some period of time, usually in pain and suffering from injuries or complications that eventually claim his or her life. When that happens, 755 ILCS 5/27-6 allows you to seek compensation for the medical expenses and other personal injury damages incurred while your loved one was still alive following the accident or malpractice. In essence, what this does is to preserve for you and your family the potential claims your loved one would have been able to pursue related to the accident or malpractice if he or she had lived.