Wrongful Death Examples & What to Do if a Loved One Dies From Negligence

In my time as a personal injury attorney, I’ve seen a lot of tragedies. From medical malpractice to drunk driving, there is unfortunately no shortage of negligence that surrounds us every single day. And in the worst cases, it can lead to a wrongful death. While the senselessness of it can be discouraging, it has also been one of my main motivators in helping families recover damages when their loved one does pass away.  

“Wrongful death” is a term of art in the legal community. It essentially means death caused by another person’s negligence.  Sadly, wrongful deaths are all-too-common in the State of Illinois. In fact, in 2023 state legislators added an amendment stating that victims can now recover punitive damages in most cases involving wrongful death (excluding medical cases), thus increasing the settlement values of wrongful death cases. 

So, here I’ll go over how wrongful death is defined in Illinois, real-world examples of wrongful death cases I’ve seen, the most common types of wrongful deaths, and most importantly, what to do if your loved one has passed away due to someone else’s negligence.

How is Wrongful Death Defined in Illinois?

Wrongful death is a legal concept that the State of Illinois defines as, “Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and. . .if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages, including punitive damages when applicable. . .”

That’s a mouthful, but essentially this means that if the death of one person is caused by another party’s negligence, the party at fault can be held liable. But first, the plaintiff must be able to prove fault by bringing forth evidence. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Photos
  • Medical records
  • Audio recordings
  • Video
  • Disciplinary records
  • Witness statements

Now that you have a better understanding of what wrongful death is, let’s dive into some real-life examples of it.

Common Types of Wrongful Deaths & Examples

Vehicle Crashes

Car, motorcycle, truck, and bus accidents are among the most common causes of wrongful deaths in Illinois, particularly around Chicago. In fact, there were around 1,151 fatal crashes in 2022, with Cook County accounting for nearly 400 of them. 

Negligence while driving can have a wide range of definitions — driving while intoxicated, distracted driving, etc. In a case that I recently resolved at trial against a distracted driver, our client was a passenger in the front seat of a car. A distracted driver ran a red light and hit our client’s side of the car and killed him instantly.  We were able to obtain justice against the distracted driver and her insurance company and settled the case for over $9 million. 

Medical Malpractice

Surgical errors, misdiagnoses, childbirth injuries, lack of informed consent, errors in administering medications, anesthesia complications, and more all fall under medical malpractice. This happens when a medical professional or team fails to comply with the standard of care, which then results in an injury, or in extreme cases, wrongful death. 

For example, when a 49-year old, healthy woman was admitted to one of the largest hospitals in Lake County for stomach pains, she wound up needing a routine surgery to have her gallbladder removed. Because the surgery didn’t end until 7:30PM, staff decided to keep her overnight. But within an hour after the surgery, she began bleeding internally. Internal bleeding is a risk of this surgery, so hospital staff was aware of what to look for. Ten hours later, though, our client passed away with five liters of blood in her abdomen. The staff missed all the signs/symptoms of internal bleeding. Our client was kept overnight because it was too late to go home, so she was exactly where she needed to be kept safe in the event of post-surgical complications. Had she been discharged home, the hospital would have blamed her for not returning to the hospital when she began showing signs of internal bleeding.  But since she was still in the hospital under the (supposed) watchful eye of the trained staff, there was no one to blame. The hospital ended up paying nearly $5 million for its negligence that caused this wrongful death.  

This is a textbook case of medical malpractice leading to wrongful death and is one of the cases that I recently handled in January 2024. The result: A $4.95 million settlement immediately following my opening statement – a record-setting settlement at trial. 

Nursing Home Negligence

They say it’s important to respect your elders, but in many nursing homes, the staff does anything but. Across the country, there are around 1.2 million nursing home residents; and around one in four deal with some form of neglect and/or abuse — physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or other. 

Illinois reports high rates of nursing home abuse. This is due to a number of factors, including that 78% of Illinois nursing homes fall below the national average in terms of staffing. Every nursing home case involves staffing issues – either there are not enough staff members to care for our parents and loved ones,  or there aren’t enough qualified staff members. With nursing home owners wanting to save money, they skimp on paying nurses fair and reasonable wages. It’s no wonder why the turnover for good workers is so high.  Unfortunately, the ones who suffer are the residents.

This exact scenario happened to a client of mine. He was left unattended for an extended period of time, fell out of his chair, and suffered a brain injury as a result. Thankfully, Luis didn’t die, but cases like this turn fatal all the time. In another case, our client wasn’t so lucky. The nurses in her nursing home did not come into our client’s room to turn her in bed (something she was unable to do on her own). She developed deep, painful bed sores which became infected. She died of sepsis, which is a system-wide infection that circulates through the bloodstream. 

What to Do If a Loved One Is a Victim of Wrongful Death

The senselessness of wrongful deaths make them especially tragic, regardless of how they occur. So it’s important to hold those accountable who fail to comply with the standard of care. If you have a family member, friend, or loved one who you suspect died due to someone else’s negligence, there are both immediate and long-term steps that must  be taken. And we can help. It’s what we do.  

Immediate Steps

  1. Document EVERYTHING. Take pictures of the incident, the setting in which it occurred, obtain witness statements, and any other pertinent info that can be used to prove fault in a court of law.
  2. Gather your documents —  hospital bills, medication, test results, funeral expenses, life/health insurance policies, and records of the deceased’s earnings will all shape the damages that you and your family are entitled to.
  3. Ensure you have a valid death certificate.
  4. When possible, get an autopsy. Most wrongful death cases require an autopsy, especially in the medical malpractice arena. 

Long-term/Legal Steps

  1. Schedule a consultation with a seasoned wrongful death attorney. I offer free initial consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, meaning I don’t get paid unless and until we win your case.
  2. Ensure you know the Illinois statute of limitations on wrongful death suits, which is two years from the day the deceased died. But please don’t delay — the longer you wait, the fuzzier details become, the harder it is to document a timeline, thus affecting how likely you are to win a case. Also, we have every potential case reviewed by the most qualified experts (specialists in each field of medicine). The review process takes time, so while two years seems like a long time, it is really not when it comes to filing wrongful death cases, 
  3. Be prepared to ask questions, not only about your case, but about your attorney. Learn about their experience. Make sure that the attorney you are considering working with actually has experience in this area of law. Many times, attorneys will say they “specialize” in wrongful death cases, but what they really mean is that they ship out those complex cases to someone else just so they can collect a referral fee. You want the attorney you hire to be the one who is working on your case. Ask about their results – both settlements and verdicts. 

Wrongful Deaths are Avoidable. Justice is Not.

I have been an active Chicago wrongful death attorney helping families achieve justice since 1997. I personally take the time to walk you through every step of the process. I take the burden of dealing with legal issues off your shoulders. I personally  deal with the insurance companies on your behalf so they leave you alone and can’t take advantage of you. I provide  you the knowledgeable representation that you deserve. When you file a wrongful death lawsuit, you’re filing on behalf of your deceased loved one; and my office will treat you and your family with the respect and kindness you deserve. 

Please give me a call today if your loved one has passed away or has been injured due to someone else’s negligence.

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