A Lake County judge awarded $6 million to the family of a woman who died after being “smothered” by her husband. This past spring, a jury found the husband guilty of involuntarily killing his wife in the couple’s living room, and sentenced him to eight years in prison. According to an article in a Chicago Sun Times publication, the decedent’s relatives will not actually receive the entire amount from the husband, but the massive $6 million award virtually ensures that he will not be able to profit from his wife’s estate (a goal of the civil action). In any case, under Illinois law, a person may not benefit from a wrongful death that he has caused. Any assets acquired under the ruling will be divided among the decedent’s five siblings.
Family members who are confronted with the prospect of bringing a wrongful death claim are most likely dealing with a tragic and devastating loss. In the face of such a loss, it may be extremely difficult to sort through and consider the many details that one must address in order to successfully file the lawsuit. Because of the nature of the suit and the terrible circumstances under which it is brought, it is vital that you contact a local, experienced injury attorney who can handle the proceedings with competence and poise.
A decedent’s family or beneficiaries are typically eligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit where the decedent was killed as a result of the negligence (or other liability – including criminal conduct) on the part of the defendant. The most common dependents or beneficiaries are surviving children and spouses, and sometimes parents. Plaintiffs in such an action may be entitled to recover compensation for economic damages, such as funeral costs and loss of wages, among others. And as recently as 2007, the Illinois Wrongful Death Act was amended to allow claims for non-economic harms as well, including damages for grief, sorrow and mental suffering.
A wrongful death case and a criminal homicide case both involve the death of a person. In a wrongful death case, the decedent’s estate brings the action in civil court to recover damages from the death. In a criminal homicide case, the state prosecutes the matter in a criminal court, seeking a prison or jail sentence. Bringing a criminal case against the defendant does not preclude the initiation of a civil case as well – both may occur. While the actions may both proceed, they will do so under different standards of proof. For example, in a wrongful death case, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of evidence, that more likely than not, the defendant is liable. In comparison, the prosecution must prove the elements of the criminal homicide charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here, the husband was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the criminal case, and later a court awarded the family $6 million in the civil action. Families dealing with a potential wrongful death lawsuit are encouraged to contact an experienced injury attorney who can help them navigate the process in an effort to achieve the best possible outcome under the circumstances.