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Chicago Wrongful Death Attorneys
Illinois Wrongful Death Law Firm
Wrongful death claims arise when person is killed due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of another. In these cases, a surviving family member may have a right to sue the responsible party to recover for pecuniary (or financial) losses suffered as a result of the victim’s death and, in some cases, punitive damages designed to punish the wrongdoer and prevent future misconduct.
Legal Elements of Wrongful Death Claim
In order to bring a successful wrongful death cause of action, the plaintiff must prove the following:
-A person died;
-The death was caused by the defendant’s negligence;
-The plaintiff suffered a loss as a result of the death, and;
-The plaintiff has a legal right to recover as a surviving family member or other person specifically named in the state’s wrongful death statute.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims
Some of the more common types of wrongful death claims include medical malpractice, unsafe pharmaceuticals, dangerous or defective products (product liability), motor vehicle accidents, and exposure to hazardous substances.
Types of Wrongful Death Damages
Plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits may be able to recover for pecuniary (or financial) damages as well as punitive damages, depending on the applicable state law. Pecuniary damages may include medical bills; funeral expenses; loss of future income and benefits; loss of future inheritance; loss of parental guidance (if decedent has minor children); loss of spousal companionship, protection and care; mental pain and suffering of surviving spouse and next of kin; and pain and suffering of the decedent prior to death. In some cases, such as the intentional misconduct of the defendant, the plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages, which are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct.
While it is extremely difficult to place a value on the loss of a life, the court will consider various factors when determining the amount of damages to be awarded, such as past income history, potential income, decedent’s health status prior to death, decedent’s life expectancy, and decedent’s contribution to the household.
How Settlements with Other Responsible Parties Can Affect Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death cases are complicated matters, with several parties involved and many possible defendants. Frequently, parties will settle legal claims out of court before the case can reach trial. These pre-trial, out of court settlements can affect claims against other responsible parties, however. When a plaintiff reaches a settlement with one responsible party out of court, the settlement may reduce the amount of wrongful death damages against another responsible party. Moreover, out of court settlements in which the plaintiff releases a responsible party from liability, the remaining defendant(s) will pay no more than their comparative share of the misconduct.
In certain cases, a wrongful death damages award may also be reduced in proportion to any payments to the plaintiff from “collateral sources,” such as insurance (other than life insurance), social security, workers’ compensation, or employee benefits programs. A reduction in damages is only appropriate in two situations, however – (1) a medical malpractice claim and (2) an action by a public employee against his employer or fellow worker for personal injury or wrongful death.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
A wrongful death lawsuit must be brought within a specific period of time, referred to as the statute of limitations. If a person fails to file a wrongful death lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, he or she will forfeit his or her right to recover damages. The actual statute of limitations will vary depending on state law and the cause of the death.
The statute of limitations time period generally begins to run when a person discovers the causal connection between the defendant’s negligence and the victim’s death. Some states begin the statute of limitations upon the death of the victim, regardless of when the connection between the death and its cause is actually determined.
The "discovery rule" may be applied in wrongful death actions to determine whether the decedent knew or should have known of the cause of his illness or injury before his death. In these situations, the statute of limitations would begin to run even before the decedent's death.
If a wrongful death lawsuit is a derivative action that arises out of a personal injury action, and the applicable statute of limitations has passed with respect to the underlying personal injury claim, the wrongful death claim may also be time-barred.
With respect to wrongful death lawsuits based on product liability, some states provide that the statute of limitations periods begins to run on the date of the decedent’s death, regardless of whether there was knowledge of the cause of death, and some states have “statutes of repose,” which prohibit any type of product liability claim, including a wrongful death claim, if the product has reached a certain age.
The states vary on the statute of limitations periods for deaths caused by harmful substances, with some states expressly beginning the statute of limitations when it was known, or reasonably should have been known, that the exposure to a toxic substance was the cause of death, with an absolute limitation a certain period after the date of death.
Trusted Legal Advice
The legal, factual and emotional complexities of a wrongful death claim can be overwhelming. The trusted Chicago wrongful death attorneys at Ankin Law Offices, LLC have considerable skill and legal knowledge to advise you through this difficult and confusing time. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of another, contact the Chicago wrongful death law firm of Ankin Law Offices at (800) 442-6546 to schedule a free consultation.