Illinois Wrongful Death Act Amended

Illinois Wrongful Death Act now allows jurors to award damages for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.” The law in Illinois since 1867 has been that in wrongful death actions, there is “no recovery for bereavement” and “nothing can be given as solatium.” Chicago & A.R. Co. v. Shannon, 43 Ill. 338, 1867 WL 5039 (1867).

Jury instructions in wrongful death actions arising before the effective date of this amendment, May 31, 2007, have and will include Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction (Civil) IPI 31.07. This instructions states: In determining “pecuniary loss” you may not consider the following:
(1) The pain and suffering of the decedent;
(2) The grief or sorrow of the widow and next of kin, or (3) The poverty or wealth of the widow and next of kin.

Needless to say this was and is a powerful argument that defendants, their insurers and attorneys make to jurors at the trial of a wrongful death action to limit the amount of damages awarded. Sometimes the only significant loss widows and next of kin sustain is the “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” associated with the wrongfyl death of a family member.

The Illinois Wrongful Deat Act now reads: “….In every such action the jury may give such damages as they shall deem fair and just compensation with reference to the pecuniary injuries resulting from such death, including damages for grief, sorrow, and mental suffering, to the surviving spouse and next of kin of such deceased person.” 740 ILCS 180/2
The impact of this amendment to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act is to allow parents and other family members to be compensated for their “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” when they lose a child or sibling to the wrongful act of another. In cases arising on or after May 31, 2007, defendants will no longer be able to argue to the jury that the grief, sorrow and mental suffering of surviving famly members are not compensable. This amendment allows the jury to fairly assess the true loss sustained by family members in wrongful death actions, and in that way return damage awards that deliver justice!