To unexpectedly lose a loved one in a tragic accident is one of the hardest things someone can experience. Unfortunately, the grief is often amplified in situations where the death could have been prevented if not for the actions or inactions of another person or entity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hundreds of thousands of individuals die due to unintentional injuries every year. They consider falls, car accidents, and unintentional poisonings; however, there are several additional ways someone could pass away as a result of someone else’s negligence.
The death of a loved one is likely to not only have an emotional impact but a financial one. The average cost of a funeral in Illinois today is well over $10,000. In addition, remaining medical bills, debts, and dealing with the loss of income are also likely to contribute to financial stress. At Thomas Law Offices, we believe families should be able to mourn the loss of their loved one without worrying about the financial impact the death will have on their lives.
Our Chicago wrongful death lawyers are ready to help families prepare strong claims. In the event the suspected negligent party is unagreeable, or the insurance company is giving you a hard time, we have the knowledge needed to build and present a case that will get your family the compensation you need to restore order to your lives and focus on the memories of your loved one.
How Illinois Defines Wrongful Death
Wrongful death is defined at the state level. 740 Illinois Compiled Statutes 180 defines the term for Illinois. According to that, whenever the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default, the person or entity that caused the death can be held liable with a lawsuit. There is also a stipulation that states the decedent would have been entitled to take legal action and recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit if they had survived.
It can be difficult for families to file a wrongful death claim, especially if they are worried about taking advantage of their loss. This is never the case. Families should think of a wrongful death suit as a lawsuit their loved one would have filed if the accident had not resulted in their death. The right lawyer can carefully guide your family through this sensitive process.
The lawsuit will not only hold the negligent party responsible for their actions, but it will also allow the deceased person’s family the opportunity to recover compensation for their own losses related to the death and the impact it’s had on them.
Common Accidents That Result in Wrongful Death Claims
The leading causes of death through the United States include heart disease, malignant neoplasm, car accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and cerebrovascular diseases. Not all of those, however, are legally considered wrongful or related to negligence.
The causes of preventable death vary greatly; however, there are discernible patterns regarding the filed claims. The most common accidents resulting in cases include the following:
- Motor Vehicle Crashes – Car accidents, including passenger vehicles, large commercial trucks, and motorcycles, are among the highest causes of wrongful deaths – with more than 40,000 fatalities annually across the country. Drivers are legally required to be responsible and ensure their actions do not bring harm to others. When this is not the case, they can and should be held accountable for their actions that caused the death.
- Medical Malpractice – When we go to a hospital, we have to put all of our trust in a medical team and assume that they will take actions to improve our health and help us get back to our lives. Unfortunately, negligent medical professionals have been known to make surgical mistakes and prescription errors and cause birth injuries.
- Premises Liability – Owners of residential and commercial properties are supposed to ensure grounds are save for visitors. It only takes an event like a serious fall to result in a fatal head injury.
- Product Liability – The products we buy are supposed to work as intended. When a major piece of equipment, like a vehicle, fails because a mistake was made during the manufacturing process or proper testing was not done, the occupants are likely to be seriously injured or killed.
- Nursing Home Abuse – While nursing homes are supposed to provide residents with high-quality care, that doesn’t always happen. If a resident is fatally injured, it may not always be evident to the family that the death wasn’t the result of an illness or natural causes.
- Work Accidents – Some career paths are more dangerous than others. Individuals that work around chemicals or machinery are exposed to potential hazards. Employers are supposed to ensure dangers are managed, and employees understand how to react to different situations to avoid an accident. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and workers can be killed.
Individuals who were committing unlawful acts that caused the wrongful death of others can be held accountable in civil court and a criminal proceeding. However, it’s important to remember that it is not required that an individual be convicted of a crime before the surviving family can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
If your loved one was killed in a different accident, you might still be able to take legal action. Discussing the merits of your claim with one of our attorneys in Chicago will be the best way to determine how to proceed.
How a Chicago Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help
Taking legal action on behalf of your deceased loved one can be complex. There are medical, insurance, and legal issues to handle while dealing with the financial consequences. Doing this on your own can be expensive and mentally taxing. There are a number of reasons to hire an experienced wrongful death lawyer, including achieving peace of mind and fully understanding what your loved one went through, maintaining timeliness, and knowing how to present the strongest case possible. They will also ensure you fully understand how the legal system works for your case, so you never feel out of the loop.
To start, your Chicago attorney will conduct an investigation. They will compile and review evidence to determine the cause of your loved one’s death. Depending on the situation, the case may require consultation from outside experts. Once there’s strong evidence for a valid claim, your lawyer can determine who in your family is legally able to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit.
Understanding Who Can File a Claim
The person able to file a wrongful death claim varies by state. Your attorney can help you determine who the personal representative should be. In general, the representative will likely be a spouse of the deceased, a parent of a minor child who is deceased, or an adult child of the deceased. If your loved one passed away without appointing a personal representative, the court has the right to appoint one.
With the help of your Illinois wrongful death lawyer, the personal representative is responsible for pursuing the claim and carrying out other tasks related to the estate.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, it may be possible to file a criminal case in addition to the wrongful death claim. The claim is a civil lawsuit where any liability is expressed purely in financial terms. However, with a criminal case, the liable person may be punished with fines, probation, or prison time. Your Chicago wrongful death lawyer will be able to help you determine how best to proceed based on the merits of your case.
Filing Within the Statute of Limitations
In Illinois, a lawsuit must be filed within a certain time limit. This is known as a statute of limitations. Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s death, you will have between one and two years to file the initial lawsuit in the Illinois court system. In some instances, there may be exceptions—particularly if you were unaware the death was the result of negligence.
If you fail to file in time, the court is likely to refuse to hear the case if that time has passed. If the court considered the claim, which is unlikely, the opposing party has the right to ask for the case to be dismissed without review. When you work with a lawyer, they will ensure all paperwork is filed on time and you won’t risk running over the deadline.
Proving a Wrongful Death Occurred
Four elements need to be proven for a family to obtain compensation if a claim goes to court. If done correctly, the three elements combined will show that the deceased person more likely than not died because of the other party’s negligence.
The first element is duty of care. For this, it needs to be shown that the suspected guilty party had an obligation to the decedent. For example, drivers must obey traffic laws and drive in a way that does not put others at risk. The second element is how the duty of care was breached. For example, if someone runs a traffic light and a pedestrian in a crosswalk is hit, the driver breached their duty.
Then, it needs to be shown that the breach of duty was the cause of the wrongful death. For example, if the pedestrian died from their accident injuries, as opposed to an infection in the hospital, this can be proven. The final element, damages, is the value of the claim based on the wrongful death and survival losses.
The claim may be harder to prove if the opposing party brings up comparative fault. If the opposing party believes your loved one was partially at fault for the accident that resulted in their death, they could try to bar your family from recovering compensation. Per state law, however, you are still eligible for take legal action if your loved one was less than 50 percent at fault.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
For a wrongful death case in Illinois, damages are paid to benefit the surviving spouse and next of kin of the decedent. In the event of a trial, the jury is allowed to award whatever damages are deemed fair. In most instances, damages will be separated into economic and non-economic categories. Economic are directly calculable, while non-economic are more subjective and on a case-by-case basis.
Compensation for the losses related to the death, including grief, sorrow, and mental suffering. Once determined, damages are distributed to the surviving spouse or next of kin according to their level of dependency on the deceased person.
Certain damages are only payable to the estate. This includes damages like medical bills and funeral and burial expenses. Damages for loss of companionship or care generally belong to family members. It can be confusing to understand the different types of damages in a wrongful death suit, which is why we’re here to help.
Move Forward With Thomas Law Offices
If you’ve lost a close family member because of the careless conduct of another person or corporation, your family will benefit from hiring a Chicago wrongful death attorney. It can be difficult to present a strong case on behalf of your loved one when you’re making funeral arrangements and cope with the loss. We will examine the circumstances surrounding the passing and work to recover sufficient compensation to help your family and hold the negligent party accountable for their actions. To learn more about your legal options, contact our firm today.