New modifications to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act now allow victims of a wrongful death to recover damages related to grief, sorrow, and mental suffering. This new addition applies to any Illinois wrongful death case that occurred after June 1, 2007.
Prior to the passing of the recent amendment, wrongful death victims were only allowed to recover for pecuniary losses such as the loss of decedent’s society. Under the loss of society claim the plaintiff may claim damages for the loss of the benefits from the decedent’s love, affection, care, attention, companionship, comfort, guidance and protection.
And while the new amendment allows plaintiffs to claim additional losses associated with their loved one’s wrongful death, there is now the requirment of proving and assessing the value of one’s grief, sorrow, and mental suffering following the death of a loved one.
It is anticipated that the degree of grief and its emotional and psychological components will need to be evaluated by experts. Clearly, survivors who have experienced mental suffering as a result of a wrongful death have all suffered in different ways. For example, each survivor has a different connection to the decedent and the suddenness of the death also needs to be weighed.
One of the first Illinois wrongful death cases to allow claims for mental suffering was Turner v. Williams, 326 Ill.App.3d 541 (2d Dist. 2001), a case where two minor children survived the motor vehicle death of their father. At trial, the minor plaintiffs were permitted to introduce evidence concerning their emotional distress resulting from their father’s death. The plaintiffs were awarded more than $5 million by the jury.
The case was appealed to the Illinois Second District Appellate Court regarding whether or not the children were able to collect damages for their mental suffering following their father’s death. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and opined that as the children were entitled to recover their monetary losses, including benefits, goods, services and society as a result of their father’s death.
At the time of the court’s decision bereavement or grief was not a recoverable element of damage under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, yet the court held that “testimony concerning bereavement is relevant to a claim for loss of society”. In Turner, treating healthcare providers had testified at trial that both children had experienced grief and related emotional difficulties due to the loss of their father. Furthermore, a treating psychology clinician related one of the child’s behavioral problems to his feelings of grief for the loss of his father. In addition to the treating physicians, both minors provided testimony about their feelings of loss regarding their father’s death. The court felt that the combined testimony of the treating physicians and plaintiffs provided an adequate claim for mental suffering and therefore the jury’s award was affirmed.