In addition to holding the defendant responsible for your loved one’s death in a civil case, filing a wrongful death claim can also allow the family members of the deceased to obtain financial compensation for losses. The compensation the survivor (or survivors) can be eligible to receive is known as “damages.” Potential damages can help to provide a family with compensation for hospital bills and surgery costs from when the deceased was still alive and being treated for life-threatening injuries, as well as direct losses from burial and funeral costs or lost wages. In addition, the survivors may be eligible to receive damages for more subjective losses, such as pain and suffering.
There are different types of damages in wrongful death lawsuits, and we want to provide you with more information about potential damages.
Pecuniary loss and measure of wrongful death damages
In an Illinois wrongful death lawsuit, the survivors may be able to recover for “pecuniary loss,” which the Illinois Court System defines as losses that “may include loss of money, benefits, goods, services, and society.” When a judge or jury decides potential damages in a wrongful death claim, it begins from the presumption that the survivor(s) “has sustained some substantial pecuniary loss by reason of the death.”
In other words, when a person dies as a result of another party’s negligence, the court presumes that the survivors have suffered pecuniary losses and may be entitled to damages. These damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff—the survivor—for losses. For pecuniary losses, plaintiffs can be awarded two types of compensatory damages:
- Economic damages (or, those damages for direct financial losses); and
- Noneconomic damages (or, those damages for indirect and subjective losses, such as mental grief or loss of consortium).
Determining the amount of a damages award in an Illinois wronful feath claim
To determine the amount of a damages award, juries are instructed to consider the following in cases where an adult suffered fatal injuries:
- What money, benefits, goods, and services the deceased contributed in the past, and would likely contribute in the future;
- Decedent’s personal expenses;
- What instruction, moral training, and superintendence of education the decedent might reasonably have been expected to give his child had he lived;
- His age;
- His sex;
- His health;
- His occupational abilities;
- Grief, sorrow, and mental suffering of the survivors;
- The relationship between survivors and the decedent; and
- The marital relationship that existed between the widow or widower and the decedent.
When a wrongful death case concerns the death of a child, a jury can also take into account the amount of money the parents would have spent on the child had the child survived.
What about punitive damages? This type of damages is not designed to compensate a plaintiff for losses, but instead to punish a defendant for a particularly harmful or egregious act or omission. Illinois law does not permit survivors in wrongful death cases to seek punitive damages. As such, potential damages likely are limited to the compensatory damages discussed above. An Illinois wrongful death attorney can provide you with more information.