Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

State law dictates who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Illinois, a wrongful death claim must be brought forth by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. A personal representative is typically a close relative of the deceased person, such as a surviving spouse, parent, or adult child. The loss of a loved one is a painful experience. For surviving dependents, this loss is often compounded by the financial hardship caused by treatment and hospitalization costs, loss of income, funeral costs, and other expenses associated with death. A successful wrongful death suit can provide financial relief.  

Determining a Personal Representative

A personal representative files a wrongful death claim on behalf of a deceased person. There are a few factors that influence who is assigned as a personal representative for a decedent’s estate. A personal representative may have been appointed in a will. In the absence of an existing appointment, the courts may choose a representative. Typically, familial relationships are a significant factor in this determination.

If the victim was married at the time of the accident, his or her spouse will generally serve as the personal representative. Domestic partners are also able to act as a representative. If the deceased was a minor child, a parent or guardian will be responsible for bringing forth the claim. If surviving adult children are present, they may file the wrongful death suit. If none of these circumstances apply, a distant relative may be allowed to act as a representative. 

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Illinois

Time is of the essence in wrongful death cases. The statute of limitations in Illinois is based on two factors. First, the underlying type of case influences the time limit. For example, if a personal injury accident, such as a slip and fall or car crash, caused the fatality, then there is a two-year statute of limitations. Otherwise, a one-year limitation applies, beginning on the date of the decedent’s death. Between the two, the later deadline will apply. If a case is not filed within the allotted time frame, the courts may choose to reject it. 

Damages Recoverable in Wrongful Death Claims

When the death of a loved one occurs as a result of another party’s negligent actions, that party is liable for damages in a wrongful death claim. A jury will determine what amount of damages is fair and just with consideration to the losses resulting from the accident. There are two types of damages a plaintiff may seek in a claim: economic and non-economic. Non-economic damages are intangible losses without a set monetary value. These are represented as a loss of consortium, pain and suffering (of the survivor and the decedent), and emotional trauma. Economic damages are those that carry an exact cost. These include future lost wages, medical care resulting from the accident (prior to death), medical equipment and hospice costs, funeral expenses, and loss of inheritance.
The sudden loss of a loved one can traumatically impact surviving family members. When significant costs from the accident pile up, many families are left facing financial hardship. Filing a wrongful death claim can help to ensure surviving dependents are cared for in an already stressful time. If a surviving dependent, or personal representative of the decedent, is seeking to recover damages, the aid of a wrongful death attorney can help to ensure the success of a claim.