What is the Legal Definition of 'Wrongful Death' Under Illinois Law?
"Wrongful death" in Illinois is defined as when any person dies because of another person's, company's, or corporation's 1) intentional, 2) negligent, or 3) other kind of misconduct and that death precludes the victim from bringing an action for damages against the offender.
- How Does Illinois Law Provide Relief For Wrongful Deaths?
- What Are Different Culpable Mental States In Wrongful Death Cases?
- What Is Next Of Kin?
- What Do You Need To Prove In A Wda Case?
- What Are Pecuniary Damages?
- Can The Decedent Recover For Anything?
- What Else Can You Obtain In A Wrongful Death Case?
- Do You Have Additional Questions About Illinois Wrongful Death Cases?
How Does Illinois Law Provide Relief For Wrongful Deaths?
The term "wrongful death" refers to any action where a person willfully or negligently takes the life of another person. In Illinois, the Wrongful Death Act (WDA) provides for a cause of action "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 in respect thereof, then and in every such case the person who or company or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amounts in law to a felony." 740 ILCS 180/1.
Thus, the wrongful act may be intentional or unintentional; additionally, it can be caused by the negligence of a person or family, or by an entity such as a business or organization. Also, for financial damages, a suit must be filed within the confines of the law where the death occurred.
Importantly, the remedy WDA provides for is separate and distinct from any case the decedent could have brought because it is solely for "The exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin." 740 ILCS 180/2. In practice, the decedent's representatives nominally serve as a trustee for the interested parties. VanMeter v. Goldfarb, 317 Ill. 620, 622 (1925).
What Are Different Culpable Mental States In Wrongful Death Cases?
In the previous section, we mentioned how defendants could be liable for wrongful death regardless of their mental status. Normally, mental status confers a certain level of culpability. However, that is largely the concern of criminal law. In civil litigation, such as a wrongful death lawsuit, we are concerned with the injury, the outcome, and how it happened rather than what the offender was thinking at the time of the incident. With that being said, it still can be helpful to understand different mental statuses in order to identify who was responsible for the wrongful death. Here are the two most important ones:
- INTENT: This means that the wrongdoer intentionally meant to do the act that caused the person's death. For instance, if the defendant saw the victim while driving and drove with intention to run them over, then he or she had an intentional mental status. Defendants might not intend the outcome, but the critical point is that they intended to do the original wrongful act such as crashing into someone even if they didn't want the other person to do.
- NEGLIGENCE: Defendants have a negligent mental status when their conduct is below that of a reasonable person's for the circumstances. For instance, if you are speeding and hit someone by accident, you still might be liable and your condemning mental status would be negligence.
- NONE: Sometimes defendants can get in trouble with no mental status at all applicable to the situation. Here, the law punishes them for merely doing things like making, distributing, or selling defective product. In this situation, courts put the burden of the consequences on these parties so that they take further precautions to prevent accidents and deaths.
As you already know, you can sue someone for wrongful death in Illinois no matter what their mental status was with some exceptions. However, knowing these fundamental mental states will allow you to identify who the responsible party was even faster.
What Is Next Of Kin?
Under the WDA, "next of kin" is defined as blood relatives who would take under normal intestacy principles. Glenn v. Johnson, 198 Ill. 2d 575 (2002). Therefore, if a decedent died without a will in Illinois, it is possible that his or her parents and siblings could find relief if there were no surviving spouses or descendant. This is possible because intestate estates are distributed "per stirpes" whereby each branch of the family receives an equal share. However, if one heir predeceases the decedent, then that share is divided equally among that persons' issue/descendants. See 755 ILCS 5/2.
What Do You Need To Prove in an Illinois WDA Case?
Before plaintiffs can achieve relief through the WDA, they must prove three things. First, that the defendant owed the decedent a duty of care; second, that the defendant breached that duty of care; third, people entitled to recover under the WDA suffered pecuniary damages. See Vaughn v. Granite City Steel Div. of Nat. Steel Corp., 217 Ill. App. 3d 46, 50 (1991); Old Second Nat. Bank of Aurora v. Aurora Township, 156 Ill.App.3d 62, 65 (1987).
What Are Pecuniary Damages?
Pecuniary damages are all the money, property, and services the decedent might have given the spouse or kin had he or she not have died. Courts consider many aspects of the decedent in determining this loss, including his or her age, employment, health, relationship to the plaintiffs, wisdom, and much more. Kaiserman v. Bright, 61 Ill. App. 3d 67 (1978).
Can The Decedent Recover For Anything?
As previously mentioned, recovery is not allowed for decedents in wrongful death actions. It is limited to their next of kin. Are they out of luck then? No, through their representatives, they can bring actions to recover for the expenses, injuries, and suffering that they had to endure because of the offender's misconduct. This highlights how a WDA claim is distinct from others in that it seeks to reimburse plaintiffs for the loss of someone and the burden that that loss imposes on the future.
What Else Can You Obtain In A Wrongful Death Case?
In some circumstances, you might be able to obtain punitive damages in wrongful death cases in Illinois. Generally, this kind of compensation is saved for extreme cases of recklessness, carelessness, or wantonness. However, these are also highly correlated with wrongful deaths so it might be worthwhile to see if punitive damages are an option for your suit. Some states bar punitive damages for certain categories of misconduct, like medical malpractice, but no state bars it in all cases. Also, punitive damages can far outstrip your pecuniary damages so it might be very lucrative to pursue them.
Do You Have Additional Questions About Illinois Wrongful Death Cases?
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to securing the most favorable recovery possible for families grieving from a wrongful death. As with all of our injury cases, we work on a contingency basis where there is only a legal fee charged when there is an award that you are satisfied with. Contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC today and begin the process of getting the compensation that you and your family deserve.
For additional information see the following pages:
- Are Proceeds From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Taxable Under Illinois Law?
- How Much Will it Cost Me to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
- What is The Best Way to Choose an Illinois Wrongful Death Attorney?
- What Types of Financial Damages Can You Sue For in an Illinois Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
- What Does it Cost to Talk With an Attorney to Find Out If I Have a Wrongful Death Case?
- Who Can File For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Under Illinois Law?
- How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Illinois?