The loss of a loved one is one of the most challenging things a family can endure. When the death was the result of someone’s negligent actions, it compounds things. Families often question whether legal action can be taken or should be taken against the responsible party. While it’s understandable for families to have reservations about the legal process, it is sometimes the only means of holding those who wrongfully caused a loved one’s death responsible and securing a comfortable future for those who have been left behind.
If your family is considering filing a wrongful death case, you may be wondering how the amount to be awarded is determined. The process of establishing the amount to be awarded in a wrongful death case is complicated. There are a number of factors to consider. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that the compensation awarded is meant to hold the at-fault party responsible for the value of the lost income/wages/earning capacity (known as pecuniary damages) as well as the value of the loss of love, companionship, guidance, consortium and the grief and sorrow (known as non-pecuniary damages) caused by the wrongful conduct of the responsible party.
If there is evidence that the individual who died had conscious pain and suffering before their death, there may also be damages for their pre-death pain and suffering. These pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages must be fully evaluated and developed in a way to ensure that the maximum compensation can be obtained for each element of available damages.
Illinois’ Wrongful Death Act and Survival Act
The Wrongful Death Act of Illinois, 740 ILCS 180/2, 180/2, allows a personal representative to take legal action on behalf of a deceased individual for the benefit of the decedent’s widow, next of kin, or heirs. The act allows the representative to recover compensation for what these heirs/ family members lost as a result of their loved one’s death.
According to the act, when the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or death, and the death would not have occurred if the negligent party had acted properly, the family can recover damages. Compensation can also be sought in the event the death was caused by a company, corporation, or larger entity.
For each case, the jury is allowed to assign compensation as they see fit for the pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages are the damages that hard numbers can be placed on such as lost earnings. In certain cases, this is not a simple calculation of what someone was earning times the number of years they would have worked. For example, if an individual was rising in their career, it is important to have an appropriate executive compensation expert evaluate where the career track may have taken the individual and where their career path would likely have taken them if they had not died prematurely. It is also important to look at and establish the amount of money necessary to replace the services that the deceased person provided. Things like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, doing handy-work around the house, etc. can be costly to replace over a period of time.
In addition to the pecuniary damages, the jury gets to consider the non-pecuniary damages. These include things like loss of love, guidance, companionship, as well as grief, sorrow and mental suffering. It is important to get the right people lined up to testify to establish these elements of damages.
Family members typically have two years after a death occurs to take legal action. There are exceptions and other circumstances that may shorten the time. Therefore, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as you are able to do so after the death of a loved one.
In the event your loved one’s accident did not result in immediate death, Illinois’ Survival Act may allow a family to seek compensation for medical expenses and other personal injury damages that the deceased incurred while they were still alive.
Valuing a Wrongful Death Claim
Because of the number of factors involved with a wrongful death claim, there’s no way to immediately estimate what a family might receive for their loss. A detailed analysis of the relationship that the deceased had with each potential heir needs to be evaluated and considered.
Additionally, the potential future earnings must be fully evaluated and developed in order to best present that element of the case. Calculating the financial value of a wrongful death claim can be a challenge. Your attorney may call upon the knowledge of executive compensation experts and other financial experts to determine what a proper valuation is.
In most cases, the following will be taken into consideration:
- Proof of the deceased individual’s prior earnings;
- Proof of the deceased individual’s education;
- Proof of the deceased individual’s future advancement and the impact of that advancement on future earnings;
- How many dependents have been impacted by the person’s death;
- The age of the deceased individual;
- The health and habits of the deceased individual;
- The amount of available insurance;
- How the jury perceives the case;
- Where the case is heard;
- Your lawyer’s preparation and presentation of the available damages to the fact-finder; and
- Death Related Expenses such as funeral and burial expenses.
If you’ve lost a loved one and are unsure as how to proceed, Krzak Rundio Gorman, Injury Attorneys is here for you. We have extensive experience taking on wrongful death claims. If you’d like to know more about wrongful death claims or are interested in pursuing a case, contact us today.