Losing a loved one is devastating, but knowing that death and your loss could have been prevented can be even more painful. At Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C., our Chicago-based wrongful death attorneys are here to assist grieving families who have recently lost loved ones from wrongful conduct. While we know that we can never bring back a loved one, our work can provide a sense of justice and financial accountability. Oftentimes, our prosecution of wrongdoers has changed entire industries, products or practices, preventing others in the future from being harmed.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Each state has its own unique Wrongful Death Act, although many trace their roots to the Lord Campbell’s Act of 1846. Prior to the passage of wrongful death acts, those wrongfully caused the death of another could not be typically held civilly responsible.
In complex cases, such as aviation disasters or product liability cases, more than one state’s law might apply to a claim. Having experienced lawyers with a national practice can ensure that the necessary comparative analysis is completed to ensure the most beneficial law to the claim is sought and applied.
In Illinois, the Illinois Wrongful Death Act defines wrongful death as a death that occurs due to the “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another. The Wrongful Death Act creates a cause of action in the name of the personal representative for the benefit of the widow and next-of-kin for their “pecuniary injuries.” The term “pecuniary injuries” has been interpreted to include benefits of a pecuniary value, which includes money, goods, and services received by the next of kin of the deceased. When there are surviving children, it also includes the instruction, moral training, and superintendence of education that the children would have received from the deceased parent. “Pecuniary injuries” has also been held to include the loss of consortium by the surviving spouse, the loss of a minor child’s society by the parents, the loss of an unmarried adult child’s society by the parents, the loss of a parent’s society by an adult child, and the proven loss of a sibling’s society. It also provides for damages that the family suffers due to grief, sorrow, and mental anguish.
There are many different types of accidents that can result in wrongful deaths. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports 7,159 deaths occurred in 2020 that were the result of unintentional injuries, the fourth leading cause of death that year. About 43% of these deaths occurred in the Chicago area.
The same types of actions that lead to personal injury cases also form the basis of wrongful death claims, including:
- Aviation accidents
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Train accidents
- Boat accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Dangerous products
- Toxic exposure
- Premises liability incidents, such as slips, trips or falls
- Construction accidents
- Mass shootings
Because a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim, it is separate and distinct from a criminal case. This means that you do not have to show the defendant committed a crime or the defendant was convicted of a criminal act to find they are civilly responsible for the death of a loved one. The failure to act as a reasonable person, commonly referred to “negligence”, is usually sufficient to base a wrongful death claim.
Who Is Legally Responsible for My Loved One’s Death?
Every wrongful death claim is different and involves different circumstances. When filing this type of claim, your legal team will need to accurately identify the person or entity that is legally responsible for your loved one’s death. The law recognizes that oftentimes, more than one person or entity can be legally responsible for a wrongful death. Identifying responsible parties can vary by case, such as:
Aviation accidents present a specialized type of case that requires comprehensive expertise. Aviation accidents can involve fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, or other types of aircraft. Some aviation accidents involve more than one aircraft, such as a midair collision. Oftentimes, many things have to go wrong to cause an aviation accident, meaning more than one entity is often responsible.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
The at-fault driver whose negligence caused the accident is often responsible for damages stemming from a motor vehicle accident death. However, others that may sometimes be responsible for these deaths include:
- The owner of the vehicle, if different from the driver
- A product manufacturer, in the case of a defective auto part or vehicle
- An establishment that sold alcohol to an intoxicated driver, according to the Illinois Dram Shop Act
- An employer, if the driver was working at the time of the accident
Truck accident cases are often unique because they involve many different parties who may share in the liability for any accident. Possible parties who may be responsible for truck accident wrongful deaths include:
- Truck drivers
- Trucking companies
- Owners of the truck
- Cargo-loading companies
- Product manufacturers
Mass Transit Accidents
Plane, train, bus, and other mass transit accidents may be due to the negligence of entities that provide the form of transportation, such as the local government entity or the private contractor that provides the service. It could also be a product manufacturer if there was a malfunction with the equipment.
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is injured when their healthcare provider fails to provide them with the same quality of care another provider in the same area and with the same background would have provided. Parties who may be named as defendants in medical malpractice cases that resulted in wrongful death might include:
- Lab technicians
- Nursing homes
- Medical clinics
- Other medical facilities
- Other medical providers
Boat and Maritime Accidents
Accidents that happen on or adjoining navigable waters of the United States can be subject to a legal regime known as maritime or “admiralty” law. This largely uniform area of specialized law can be complex and vary widely from most other legal regimes. It can apply to guests on a vessel, seaman, and longshore workers. Having lawyers with decades of experience navigating admiralty law can make a meaningful difference between a claim succeeding or failing. Our team has been involved in meaningfully prosecuting and developing the law in federal courts to protect the families of those killed on navigable waters.
Designers and manufacturers of consumer products have an obligation to ensure that the products they put into the stream of commerce are not unreasonably dangerous. When they fail in that duty and cause injury or death to others, they need to be held legally responsible.
In the latest data available, from 2021, the National Safety Council (NSC) reported that 11.7 million Americans required treatment in an emergency department for an injury resulting from a consumer product. Many of these injuries involved malfunctioning or defective products.
Many states, including Illinois, have specialized laws that apply to dangerous products. One of the most powerful legal theories to protect consumers and the public is called “strict products liability.” This legal theory imposes liability on a manufacturer when a product leaves their control in an unreasonably dangerous condition. The focus of the inquiry is on the product itself, as opposed to the conduct of the manufacturer. The law also permits those affected by dangerous products to pursue additional liability theories at the same time as strict products liability.
Like other areas of the law, prosecuting those responsible for dangerous products can be complex. Oftentimes, products are made in far away places from where they eventually cause harm, creating complicated issues about what courts may have jurisdiction and what state’s laws may apply to the claims. In some instances, courts may be called upon to apply the legal theory of dépeçage, which means that one state’s law may apply to part of the claim and another state’s law may apply to a different part of the claim.
Having lawyers who have deep experience in product liability claims should be a must for any family who has lost a loved one due to a defective product. Our team has decades of experience pursuing justice on behalf of families who have lost loved ones due to defective or dangerous products. From jet turbofan engines that have exploded causing major airline crashes, to motorcycles with improperly designed frames, to medical devices that were not made to accommodate certain patients, to defective software that caused airplanes to fall from the sky, our team has prosecuted some of the most significant product liability cases in modern times. Along the way, we have also taken the time to write the authoritative text relied on by lawyers and judges when it comes to strict products liability.
The most recent data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 951 construction workers were killed on the job in 2021, making this field one of the most dangerous occupations for workers. Unfortunately, many of those construction workers fatalities could have been prevented had proper safety precautions been taken. While the United States Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has rules that apply to all occupational fields, it has developed a special subset of rules given the heightened dangers posed to workers on construction sites.
When multiple employers are present on a worksite, the roles and responsibilities with respect to occupational safety and health are defined in OSHA’s Multi-Employer Citation Policy. The multi-employer doctrine provides that an employer who controls or creates a worksite safety hazard may be found to have violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act even if the employees threatened by the hazard are solely employees of another employer. The doctrine came about specifically for the construction industry where numerous contractors are often working in the same general area, and where hazards created by one employer can pose dangers to employees of other entities.
In addition to the shooter, other parties who may be named in a wrongful death case based on a shooting may include the party responsible for safeguarding the weapon, such as a parent or business, a negligent gunmaker, or a government entity.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Each state’s law varies on who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, but most states give priority to a surviving spouse, children or parents. Under Illinois’ wrongful death law, only a court appointed representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The appointed representative files the case for the benefit all of the decedent’s surviving spouse and next of kin.
In Illinois, the court ultimately determines what portion of the award to give to you and each other surviving family member, based on various factors. This is highly dependent on the circumstances.
How Can Our Chicago-based Wrongful Death Attorneys Help?
Our dedicated Chicago-based wrongful death attorneys can help seek justice for your family and lost loved ones. We can assist you with all aspects of your claim, including:
- Investigating the cause of your accident and identifying all parties who may have contributed to your loved one’s death
- Explaining the laws that apply to your case and answering all of your questions
- Gathering and compiling evidence to support your claim and establish the full extent of your losses
- Working with experts to further bolster your case
- Reviewing all applicable insurance policies and helping you with filing claims
- Handling communications with insurance companies and other parties on your behalf so you can focus on your family
- Negotiating with defendants or insurance companies for fair compensation for your case
- Advising you of your legal options at each phase, including whether an offered settlement is fair compensation for your claim
- Filing a wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf, when appropriate
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Chicago-based Wrongful Death Attorney?
At Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C., we understand that you were not expecting the sudden loss of your loved one and you might not be focused on financial compensation right now. We firmly believe that everyone, regardless of means or finances, should have a right to pursue justice. This is why we work on wrongful death cases on a contingency-fee basis.
This means that we charge no attorney’s fees upfront. It also means that we do not charge anything until we win. In exchange, we take a percentage of any award that we help recover and distribute the rest according to the law. In other words, you owe us nothing unless we win. We take on all the risks so you can focus on your healing.
Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. has successfully resolved wrongful death cases for substantial compensation. We are ready to fight for the justice and financial accountability you deserve. Call us today to get started.
How to Successfully Prove a Wrongful Death Claim
The following elements have to be proved in a wrongful death case:
A Legal Duty Existed
The defendant owed a legal duty of care to your loved one. For example, all drivers owe a duty to other motorists and road users to drive safely. Medical providers owe their patients a duty to provide them with the appropriate standard of care.
The Defendant Breached Their Duty
The defendant breached their duty of care. For example, a driver may have been texting instead of paying attention to driving when they caused the crash that killed your loved one.
The Breach Caused the Death
The defendant’s breach and your loved one’s death. The defendant’s actions, and not some other cause, was a cause of the death.
You Suffered Damages
Damages occurred because of your loved one’s death. This could be economic in nature, such as being responsible for medical bills or funeral expenses. Or, it could be emotional, such as experiencing grief and sadness because of the death.
These elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not as you say. This is a much lower burden of proof than in a criminal case, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is sometimes why it is possible for a person to be found responsible in a wrongful death case but declared “not guilty” in a criminal case based on the same circumstances.
Damages Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Claim
Most states permit similar types of damages in a wrongful death case. For instance, in Illinois you may be able to recover compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of services the decedent would have provided for their spouse and children, including education and instruction
- Loss of future income and benefits
- Grief, sorrow, and mental suffering experienced by the surviving spouse and next of kin
- Loss of companionship, society, and consortium
In addition to a wrongful death lawsuit, many states, including Illinois, permit a “survival action.” This is a claim that could have been made by your loved one had they not died. Usually, this is a claim for conscious pain and suffering that was experienced before death. If you bring a survival action, you can seek compensation for the damages your loved one suffered between the time of the accident and their death, which might include:
- Property damage
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Your loved one’s pain and suffering
Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
One of the most important rules to keep in mind when considering filing a wrongful death claim is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the maximum amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you do not file the lawsuit within this timeframe, you can lose the right to seek recovery and accountability in court.
There is no one prescribed period that governs the filing of all wrongful death claims. The statute of limitations will vary state by state, is often dependent on the cause of action, and can even be different depending on the type of defendant that is being sued.
In Illinois, the general statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death. However, there are circumstances when you may have more or less time to file the lawsuit. For example, if the action is against a government agency, you must generally file the claim within one year.
If the cause of action is based on medical malpractice, you may have two years from the time you discovered the injury because it may not be immediately apparent that the death was due to a medical mistake. The best way to avoid missing an important case deadline is to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney.
Contact a Caring and Compassionate Chicago-based Wrongful Death Attorney
At Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C., we know that this is a difficult time in your life. You didn’t expect to lose your loved one or to encounter the financial difficulties that have arisen as a result. We are here to help guide you through the claims process and fight for the compensation and accountability you and your family deserve. Reach out to us today for a free consultation with a caring and compassionate Chicago-based wrongful death attorney.