When a person dies as the result of someone else’s negligent (or even criminal) conduct, any surviving spouse or next of kin may be entitled to seek compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. Wrongful death is a special type of personal injury claim authorized by Illinois law. It is designed as a substitute for the lawsuit the victim might have brought had they survived the wrongful act. But unlike a normal personal injury case, here the law is designed to compensate the family for their own independent damages arising from the loss of their loved one.
We know that many people are confused about how wrongful death lawsuits work in Illinois. So here are answers to some of the more common questions we have received.
Is Wrongful Death Civil or Criminal?
A wrongful death lawsuit is an exclusively civil matter. This means that the only available remedies are monetary damages against a negligent defendant. More to the point, a wrongful death lawsuit is separate and independent from any criminal action that the State of Illinois may bring against the defendant arising from the same acts.
For example, let’s say Jenny is killed by a drunk driver. Jenny’s family decides to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver. The state also prosecutes the driver for DUI and manslaughter. These two cases are completely different legal matters, and the outcome of the criminal trial does not necessarily dictate what happens in the wrongful death case.
The reason for this is that in criminal cases, the state must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But since wrongful death is a civil matter, the plaintiffs need only prove the defendant’s negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a lower burden of proof, which means it is typically easier to prove wrongful death than it is to obtain a criminal conviction. And a civil jury is not bound by a criminal jury’s decision to acquit the same defendant–this is not a situation where the Constitution’s prohibition against “double jeopardy” applies.
How Is Death Compensation Calculated?
Obviously, nobody can ever truly place a monetary value on human life. But a jury in a wrongful death case is expected to calculate “fair and just compensation” for the surviving spouse or next of kin. This includes damages for their “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.” In addition, the jury can award compensation for certain direct monetary losses, such as the funeral and final medical bills of the deceased.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?
Like many personal injury claims, Illinois law imposes a deadline known as a “statute of limitations” for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. The applicable statute of limitations actually depends on how the victim was killed. If the alleged wrongful death arose from “violent intentional conduct,” such as murder or manslaughter, then the family must bring a wrongful death suit within 5 years of the victim’s death or 1 year after the defendant’s guilt is adjudicated in criminal court. If the wrongful death claim is based purely on negligence, however, the statute of limitations is normally 2 years from the date of the victim’s death.
Speak with a Rockford, Illinois, Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Wrongful death cases are often emotional for the family members involved. Nobody wants to relive the death of a loved one. At the same time, the family understandably wants to hold the responsible parties legally accountable. An experienced Rockford wrongful death attorney can help. Contact the offices of Fisk & Monteleone Ltd. today to schedule a free consultation.