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Wrongful death and wrongful death claims - the basics, p2

We are continuing our discussion of the definition of wrongful death and how wrongful death lawsuits work. A wrongful death is a death caused by someone's negligence, a willful act or a willful omission. A quick reminder: Negligence is the failure to do what a reasonable person would do under the same or similar circumstances.

It is important to remember that wrongful death claims are civil matters, not criminal, and a conviction in one court does not influence the outcome of a case heard in the other court. One thing the two have in common is that the defendant can be liable even if the act was not intentional. Think of all those negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter cases on "Law & Order" -- the defendants did not set out to do cause someone's death that day. Wrongful death claims, in fact, are more often rooted in the defendant's unintentional act or negligence.

Laws regarding wrongful death damages vary from state to state, usually with regard to punitive damages or damage awards in a medical malpractice case. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for especially reckless or grossly negligent acts. Compensatory damages are awarded to reimburse plaintiffs for medical costs and other expenses related to the victim's death or, as we said above, to compensate them for the emotional suffering caused by the victim's death.

Statutes of limitations also vary from state to state. In Illinois, a qualifying survivor has just two years from the date of the victim's death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. It will likely take longer, though, for the lawsuit to settle or to go to trial.

Source: West's Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated, Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/0.01 et seq.) via WestlawNext

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