A wrongful death claim, unfortunately, can take many different forms. It may arise when an entity or person intentionally or negligently causes the death of another person. A personal representative of the decedent, typically brings a court action on behalf of the estate, seeking damages. When this happens, the claim can include damages for financial losses and costs as well as for emotional distress and pain and suffering.
Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported on the tragic death of a freshman at Northern Illinois University, as a result of a hazing incident involving excessive alcohol consumption. At the time, the student was engaging in a ritual that has become common place at colleges across the country: pledging a fraternity. Part of that routine often includes “hazing” of “pledges.” In this case, it meant that pledges were invited to a party called “Parents Night,” sponsored by the fraternity and related sorority. According to the story, the University was unaware of the event.
Pledges were expected to visit room after room, and while there, answer questions in exchange for alcohol. This went on long enough for the freshman to become so intoxicated that his blood alcohol level was nearly five times the legal driving limit. The student was found dead the next morning, in a bed in the fraternity house. The coroner determined that he died from fatal heart arrhythmia, caused mainly by the alcohol in his body.
Sadly, when something like this happens, the victim’s family is usually shocked and grieving, wondering how this could happen and why there were not more safeguards in place to prevent such tragedies from occurring. While the state is seeking criminal charges of felony hazing death against the University students who organized the party, his family could bring another claim altogether: one for the wrongful death of their son, among possibly other causes of action. It would seem that someone involved in this incident was grossly negligent: perhaps the fraternity in failing to ensure that students didn’t drink to such excessive levels, and/or the University for allowing such conduct to take place, in the first instance.
In Illinois, before the Wrongful Death Act was revised in 2007, claimants were limited to recovery of economic damages such as funeral costs and loss of wages. The law was amended to allow claimants to seek recovery for grief, sorrow and mental suffering. As part of this change, they may also now present scientific evidence related to these damages.
Wrongful death actions can result from many different types of negligent or intentional conduct. Plaintiffs have sought and recovered damages from drunk driving accidents, negligent medical care, the negligent treatment of patients at a nursing home facility, and many other situations where someone or some entity caused the death of another, either negligently or intentionally.
If you or someone you know was involved in an accident or situation resulting in the death of a loved one or family member, it is important to reach out to an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney who can help you understand your rights.