Illinois Families May Now Recover Punitive Damages In Wrongful Death Act and Survival Act Claims

On August 11, 2023, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 219 which amends both the Illinois Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180) and The Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/27-6) to allow for punitive damages in wrongful death and survival claims. Under Public Act 103-0514, punitive damages are now expressly allowed in wrongful death claims and survival claims. As noted in Public Act 103-0514 and the Wrongful Death Act, punitive damages still may not be claimed in certain types of claims, including medical malpractice claims, legal malpractice claims, and certain claims against state and local governments.

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a defendant and provide both an individual and public deterrence of the type conduct committed. Punitive damages are warranted in causes where the defendant acts willfully or with a reckless indifference to the rights of others. To seek a claim for punitive damages, Illinois requires the plaintiff to file a pretrial motion seeking leave to file a prayer of relief seeking punitive damages. See 735 ILCS 5/2-604.1. The trial judge has the discretion, after a hearing is conducted, to permit a plaintiff to seek punitive damages given the facts and circumstances of the case. The plaintiff must establish a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial that would support an award of punitive damages against the defendant. The motion must be filed no later than 30 days before discovery is closed.

In addition to punitive damages, the law allows families to pursue several important types of losses in cases involving a fatality. In determining the pecuniary loss suffered by the family in a wrongful death claim, juries can consider the money/benefits/goods/ services contributed by the decedent in the past and future, the decedent’s age, the decedent’s health, the decedent’s physical and mental characteristics, the decedent’s habits, the decedent’s occupational abilities, the grief, sorrow, and mental suffering of the next of kin, and the relationship between the decedent and next on kin. Under a survival claim, the family can seek typical personal injury damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of normal life.

Prior to the passage of Bill 219, families that lost loved ones and pursued wrongful death or survival claims were limited to pursuing certain types of losses. Now, with the passage of Bill 219, families can pursue an additional category of damages in cases where a defendant’s conduct is egregious, which will help compensate families in these important cases. If you have lost a loved and have questions about the claims that can be pursued in a wrongful death or survival case, contact the knowledgeable Naperville personal injuries attorneys at John J. Malm & Associates.

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