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Who Can Recover a Wrongful Death Settlement in Illinois?

Wrongful death cases are unexpected, swift and devastating. Any death is a blow, but when that death is the result of someone else's negligence, the pain may be compounded by frustration and anger. It is not unusual for friends, romantic partners and colleagues to want justice served in the form of punitive damages and financial recovery. But in most states, including Illinois, the law limits who can actually collect on a wrongful death suit. With few exceptions, the list of eligible parties is comprised of family only.

The most common plaintiff in a wrongful death case is the spouse of the deceased. Because this is the relationship that is the closest both emotionally and financially, spouses can recover the most money from a major wrongful death award. Wrongful death settlements are typically broken out into a number of categories, including loss of income, loss of benefits and loss of companionship. Of all these different avenues, spouses qualify for the largest number. If your husband or wife lost his or her life in a preventable accident, you could have a strong case for considerable compensation.

Parents can claim wrongful damages as well. There is no official age cutoff for parents to join a suit such as this, but the most common circumstance through which parents enter the picture is the death of a minor or an infant. Depending upon the county and jury your case gets, pecuniary damages may include significant sums for lost earning potential, as well as for the considerable grief associated with losing such a young person. Parents can also seek legal action if there is no spouse in the picture, even if the victim is fully grown.

Children represent the final category of family that can recover a wrongful death settlement in Illinois. Many of the same issues are factored into the final settlement, including medical bills, funeral bills, lost income, lost benefits and pain and suffering. Depending on the age of the child, the damages may be held by a guardian until that plaintiff can claim it. Even adult children can recover a wrongful death settlement, however — cases such as these are common when the death was caused by nursing home negligence or medical malpractice. It isn't necessary to prove that the victim had lots of earning potential left — the other damages will likely add up to a large sum by themselves.

It is important to note one caveat about families and wrongful death in Illinois: one family member may not sue another family member over a fatal incident. The reasons for this are manifold, but they include the variety of overlapping financial interests, as well as the confusion of assigning benefits and loss in such a complicated relationship. Family members may sue each other for a number of lesser charges, however, so if you believe you have a clear-cut case of abuse or negligence, a Chicago wrongful death attorney can still guide you toward an appropriate lawsuit.

Lastly it is important to clearly define who cannot recover damages for a wrongful death. Most notably and problematically for many people, partners who are unmarried cannot recover these funds. This includes everyone from "just dating" couples to fully monogamous partnerships that may have lasted for decades. As agonizing as it may be for the partners left behind in such relationships, Illinois law has traditionally shown little latitude in adjusting its guidelines to accommodate nontraditional couples. For better or worse, marriage remains the gold standard for codifying a partnership under the law.

The deep injustice of a wrongful death touches many loved ones beyond the bounds of family. But for the purposes of legal recovery, plaintiffs must be immediately related to the victim to commence a legal action such as this — and to collect the settlement that results. Spouses, parents and children who are looking for some measure of justice should speak with a qualified attorney sooner rather than later about the best way to recover what they deserve.