Surviving Kin Receives 614,000 for Mental Suffering Following Father’s Death in Motorcycle Accident – Estate of Harder v. Nooraee

In auto accident lawsuits, it is somewhat common for the defendant driver to admit liability, but still dispute the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. However, somewhat less typical is for the defendant driver to dispute the degree to which surviving family members suffer in the event that the plaintiff driver died in the car accident. Yet this is what happened in the McHenry County lawsuit of Estate of Patrick Harder, deceased v. Morgan Nooraee, 08 L 54.

The motorcycle accident at issue in Harder took place on Route 14 in Crystal Lake, Illinois. At the time of the accident, the 44 year-old Patrick Harder was driving his motorcycle along Route 14 when Morgan Nooraee turned his vehicle in front of Harder. The two vehicles collided and Harder was killed on impact.

A wrongful death lawsuit was then filed against Nooraee on behalf of Harder’s closest surviving kin, i.e., his eight year-old son. And while Nooraee unequivocally admitted liability for the motorcycle accident and Harder’s death, he argued over the extent which Harder’s death affected his surviving child. Harder did not live with his son, nor was Harder the primary financial caregiver for his child. Therefore, the defense argued that Harder’s son should not be allowed to benefit from his death.

In response, the estate then presented evidence at the McHenry County trial to support its claims that Harder and his son were close and that his death did have an effect the son. While the estate confirmed that Harder had never formally lived with his son, he did exercise his visitation rights on a regular basis. In addition, Dr. Louis Kraus, psychologist, testified that Harder’s son continued to experience grief, sorrow, and mental suffering as a result of his father’s death following the motorcycle accident.

Because Harder’s financial support to his son had been small, the estate elected not to make a claim for the lost financial support Harder’s death had caused. Rather, the main focus of its wrongful death claim was the grief, sorrow, and mental suffering caused by Harder’s death. Therefore, the estate requested the judge allow a separate line on the jury verdict form that would allow the jury to itemize damages related to the surviving son’s grief, sorrow and mental suffering.

The court granted this request, thereby exercising its right to include damages of this kind since the amendment of the Illinois Wrongful Death Act in 2007, at which point next-of-kin were allowed to make such claims.

Prior to the start of the Illinois wrongful death trial, the estate issued a demand to settle for the maximum amount of the insurance policy limits, i.e. $1.25 million. While it did not receive this high of a verdict, the jury did award $614,935 to the estate:

• $500,000 loss of society to minor son;
• $100,000 grief, sorrow and mental suffering; and
• $14,935 funeral expenses.

And while the ultimate jury award might have been less than the estate originally demanded, it still represents a step forward for surviving kin in wrongful death lawsuits; the award for grief, sorrow and mental suffering was the first of its kind since the Illinois Wrongful Death Act was amended in 2007.

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois motorcycle accident lawsuits and Chicago wrongful death matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Woodstock, Morton Grove, Niles, Calumet City, and South Holland.

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