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The basics of wrongful death in Illinois

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Losing a loved one is probably one of the most emotionally painful experiences in life. However, if the loved one was killed because of someone else's carelessness, it only adds to this pain. In this situation, aside from the emotional pain, the loved one's sudden death can leave you with unexpected losses and expenses that can hinder you from moving on with your life.

Although nothing can bring your loved one back, the bright side is that if you are in this situation, Illinois law allows you to recoup the expenses from the responsible party through a wrongful death lawsuit. The purpose of this type of lawsuit is to allow the spouse or next-of-kin to recover compensation for the losses suffered by the death. Additionally, this type of lawsuit allows certain persons the ability to recover benefits that they would have received at a future date had the decedent lived.

Who is eligible to recover?

The right to file wrongful death lawsuits is controlled by the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Under this law, the children and surviving spouse are eligible to file a lawsuit and recover damages. In the absence of spouses and children, other relatives such as parents or siblings of the deceased, may file the lawsuit. The lawsuit itself is filed in the name of the personal representative (i.e. executor) of the decedent's estate, rather than the family members.

When can the lawsuit be filed?

Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed in virtually any situation when a loved one is killed because of someone's recklessness, carelessness or negligence. Such situations commonly include deaths from: medical malpractice, car or truck accidents, dangerous or defective products, workplace accidents, dangerous property conditions, and drunk driving. Although this type of lawsuit is most often filed against individuals, corporations or municipalities can also be held liable in many circumstances.

In some cases, the conduct of the person, corporation or municipality in causing the decedent's death is a criminal offense. Whether or not criminal charges are filed does not affect the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, whether the responsible party is found guilty or acquitted of the criminal charges does not influence the outcome the lawsuit, as it is a civil matter that has different standards of proof.

Recoverable damages

Under the law, eligible parties under the act may recover financial compensation for losses such as:

  • Funeral and medical expenses of decedent
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship and parental guidance
  • Punitive damages (in limited cases)

Any damages recovered in the lawsuit are distributed to the eligible parties by the court in proportion to their dependence on the decedent's support. As the law does not provide a mathematical formula for determining the distribution, this is largely left to the court's discretion.

If you have lost a close family member because of the careless conduct of someone else, contact an attorney experienced with wrongful death lawsuits. An attorney can examine the circumstances surrounding your loved one's death and work to recover sufficient compensation for your losses from the responsible parties.

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