Illinois Wrongful Death Laws: What You Need to Know

Following the death of a loved one, it is often hard to go about completing even basic daily functions under the weight of the grief, let alone a complicated legal process. Sadly, it’s a harsh truth that unforeseen and often terrible deaths occur every year, and survivors and relatives are left with the task of carrying on with their lives. 

While the process can be long and difficult to navigate, pursuing legal action after the avoidable or wrongful death of a loved one has undeniable practical benefits. A successful case can bring in much needed financial support and provide answers and accountability for the actions of those ultimately responsible for the tragedy. 

This article will seek to explain all the most relevant and necessary facts surrounding the legal process around wrongful death laws in the state of Illinois.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The first thing we must understand is the precise definition of a wrongful death case. The term refers to any legal proceeding brought by a person (the plaintiff) seeking compensation for the death of a loved one that was caused by the wrongful conduct of another person or group (the defendant).

The exact details of the harmful conduct are classified into three categories based on their severity.

  • Negligence cases are the least severe, where the death was avoidable and/or preventable but was caused by a true human accident. One example is this case where a waiter was struck in the head by an improperly installed bar flap. No malice or recklessness existed, but a single mistake caused measurable harm.
  • Willful and wanton cases happen when the death results from a doctor or provider making a dangerous or risky choice, perhaps without the patient’s consent or even against their wishes. An example here includes the case of a police officer who caused an accident while engaged in a high-speed chase. The officer ignored his training and several police protocols to chase the suspect, which made the accident a direct result of his needlessly risky and dangerous behavior.
  • Intentional cases are the most severe and serious and occur when the death can’t be considered a true murder, but decisions were made with the intent of harming or killing a patient. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Cases

While various circumstances could lead survivors and families to pursue legal action after a death, some cases appear much more commonly than others. Here are some of the most common types of wrongful death cases. 

  • Medical errors Medical malpractice and accidental death can take many forms since an undertrained, underfunded, careless, or just unlucky doctor can cause serious harm.
  • Vehicular accidents From personal level tragedies caused by a drunk driver or larger scale accidents such as a truck flipping over or an airplane crash, many deaths are involved in negligence or distracted or impaired driving.  
  •  Workplace injuries and accidents While some jobs are simply much more dangerous than others, many jobs are made more hazardous than necessary through negligence and corner-cutting in management. Cases like this one, where a work crew is told to ignore safety risks and complete jobs in an unrealistic timeframe, are all too common.
  • Care facilities — Any space specializing in caring for or helping needy people will be at risk for wrongful death suits. From infirm elderly people in assisted living spaces or nursing homes to babies and toddlers in daycare, any mismanagement can have fatal consequences. 

Illinois Wrongful Death Specifics

Key Facts

In Illinois, the claim must be filed by a personal representative of the deceased, generally someone very closely related to them (a parent, sibling, partner, or child). Once a personal representative is chosen, to win the case, they must be able to establish the following in court:

  • The defendant owed the deceased a legal obligation not to endanger their safety. 
  • The defendant specifically failed in this duty.
  • The defendant’s failure to protect the safety and well-being of the deceased led directly to the decedent’s death.
  • The plaintiff suffered a loss as a result of the death. 

If the plaintiff can make their case successfully, they can potentially claim damages to cover funeral and burial costs, emotional damage, some medical costs, and loss of income or services from the deceased.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations refers to the time limit after the death in which the plaintiff is legally entitled to file a wrongful death suit. In Illinois, the exact timeframe of the statute of limitations will change from case to case, depending on the context of the death.

Generally speaking, most cases will fall into a two-year window to pursue legal action. In any case, contacting a lawyer as soon as possible after the death is a smart idea to ensure you don’t run out of time. 

Still Have Questions? Pullano & Siporin Can Help

The details and specifics of wrongful death lawsuits are highly varied and complicated, mirroring the messy real world that we live in. While it would be impossible to condense all the relevant knowledge into a single article, we at Pullano & Siporin Law hope to do as much as we can to spread helpful knowledge to our clients and the world at large. 

With over 50 years of combined experience, we are here to help you. Whether it’s a question about a potential situation or a consultation for your current legal issues, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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