All traffic accidents can be devastating, however, crashes that result in fatalities are particularly tragic events. The Illinois Department of Transportation reports that 1090 people died in traffic crashes in our state in a single year. Chicago news sources are constantly reporting fatal traffic crashes in Chicago:
- A man died in a head-on collision on February 9th
- A Cook County sheriff’s deputy died on January 24th in an accident caused by a drunk driver
- A 33-year-old man died after crashing into a truck on February 4th
These are only a few of the many tragic accidents that happen on a regular basis throughout the Chicago area on a regular basis. For each fatality, there are often family members who are left with a loss that permanently changes their lives in numerous ways.
Illinois law recognizes that family members in this situation should have important legal rights if someone else caused the fatal accident. If the accident victim had survived, they would have the right to file a personal injury action and seek damages from a negligent party. Since the deceased person cannot file a lawsuit, the law gives that opportunity to certain surviving family members who can file a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Laws in Illinois
Each state has its own unique laws regarding wrongful death claims. In Illinois, a wrongful death is one that occurs due to another party’s neglect, default, or wrongful act. According to the law, if an injured person would have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit after an accident, the law allows surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim if the injuries were fatal.
In many states, family members file the lawsuit themselves, though Illinois requires that the lawsuit be filed by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. Often, the personal representative happens to be a close family member, such as a spouse or an adult child, though this is not always the case. If the deceased did not designate someone in their will or died without having a will, the court will appoint a personal representative.
Though the family members do not directly file the claim, certain damages paid are meant for the benefit of a surviving spouse, children, or other next of kin of the deceased, such as damages for mental suffering, grief, and loss of care and companionship. The damages will be distributed to a surviving spouse and other qualifying family members based on the proportions of their losses. Damages for monetary losses including medical and funeral expenses will go to the estate to ultimately be distributed to beneficiaries.
Liability for Fatal Accidents
While any type of traffic accidents can result in fatalities, certain types can have a particular risk of causing fatalities, including:
- Head-on collisions
- Rollover crashes
- Accidents involving large commercial trucks
- Accidents involving motorcycles, bicycles, or pedestrians
In many cases, fatal traffic crashes in Chicago happen because someone else acted in a negligent manner. When someone owes another person a duty of care and breaches that duty, causing injuries, they are deemed to be negligent under the law. In order to prevail in a wrongful death claim, the personal representative must sufficiently prove negligence on the part of another party.
Other drivers are commonly the at-fault party for fatal traffic accidents. Other drivers have the duty to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner to prevent accidents and injuries. They can breach this duty and cause fatal crashes in many ways, including:
- Aggressive driving, including tailgating, cutting off other drivers, and excessive speeding
- Texting, talking on a phone, or other forms of distracted driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Fatigued driving that can lead to a lack of focus or falling asleep at the wheel
- Violating any Illinois traffic safety laws
It is important to know that another driver is not always liable for wrongful death on the roads. In some cases, a company such as an auto manufacturer may be negligent. Such companies have the legal duty to ensure they sell safe vehicles and auto parts. If an auto part is defective and malfunctions while someone is driving, the malfunction can cause them to lose control and crash.
Auto parts that have caused fatalities include brakes, tires, steering systems, and even airbags. Manufacturing company Takata notoriously produced millions of defective airbags that shot metal shards toward vehicle occupants upon deployment, causing several unnecessary fatalities. In this situation, the wrongful death claims were against the companies involved in producing and selling the airbags.
Negligent parties can also be government entities or construction crews that fail to properly inspect, maintain, or repair roads. Chicago roads can have many dangerous hazards, including potholes, cracks, inadequate guardrails or shoulders, and more. Taking on companies or government agencies can be particularly difficult, though families still deserve to recover from these liable parties.
Civil v. Criminal Claims
As mentioned above, a Cook County sheriff’s deputy recently died in a drunk driving crash. The driver who caused the accident has been criminally charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and reckless homicide, among other offenses. While a criminal conviction and sentence may bring a sense of justice to the family, it does very little to provide surviving family members with the financial recovery they deserve under the law.
A wrongful death claim is filed in civil court, separate from any criminal proceedings. These claims seek money damages instead of criminal penalties such as jail time. The burden of proof is also lower in civil claims than criminal cases, so it may be possible for family members to prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit even if a prosecutor cannot prove a crime beyond of reasonable doubt. It is always worth it to discuss a possible wrongful death claim if you lose someone in a tragic accident.
Contact a Glenview, IL Car Accident Lawyer to Learn About Your Rights
While a wrongful death case can provide compensation for your family, it can also be difficult to discuss what happened. You should not wait to contact an experienced Chicago wrongful death attorney at the Chicago Legal Group for help. We will handle your claim while you focus on your emotional recovery after a tragic loss. Call 847-305-4105 or fill out our online contact form to request a free case evaluation.