What Recovery is Available When Someone’s Negligence Turns Fatal?

If someone's negligent behavior has caused the death of someone you love, you are likely feeling a range of emotions from sadness to anger and frustration. In addition to your feelings, you may have also suffered financial losses because of the death. If faced with this situation, you may wonder what your recovery options are. Fortunately, Illinois law provides residents with the option of recovering the multiple economic and noneconomic losses suffered because of the death by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

When is this type of recovery available?

Wrongful death is a legal action where your rights are controlled by statute. Under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, this type of lawsuit is appropriate when a person's negligence, carelessness or recklessness causes someone else's death. Of course, wrongful death is not available solely against individuals; corporations and government agencies can potentially be held liable for the death in certain situations. As the lawsuit requires the death to be caused by negligence or carelessness, it is often filed following fatal events such as car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, environmental contamination and workplace accidents.

At times, the behavior of the party responsible for the death rises to the level where he or she may face criminal charges. If this occurs, the criminal issues are handled in a separate legal proceeding. Whether the person is convicted or acquitted of the charges does not affect your ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit or the right to recover compensation.

Who is eligible to recover?

Under Illinois law, only certain parties may recover compensation for wrongful death. In general, only the decedent's spouse and children may recover damages in most cases. However, if the decedent was unmarried and without children, the parents may recover.

Any compensation recovered is distributed to the parties based on their dependence on the support of the decedent. Since determining this is not an exact science, the court has fairly broad discretion to decide how the compensation is to be distributed. It does this based primarily on the facts and evidence presented at trial.

What losses are compensable?

Illinois law allows eligible parties to recover compensation for a variety of economic and noneconomic losses such as:

• Loss of future income

• Medical, burial and funeral expenses of the decedent

• Loss of companionship

• Emotional anguish

• Loss of parental guidance

Aside from the above categories of loss, if the responsible party's conduct in causing the death was egregious or intentional, in some cases punitive damages may also be awarded. This type of compensation is not based on any actual loss you suffered, but is instead awarded to punish the responsible party.

Although wrongful death may seem straightforward, it is often an uphill battle to prevail in this type of lawsuit, as it involves complicated issues of proof. To ensure the best possibility of success, it is advisable to only attempt this endeavor with the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.