Most often, Chicago personal injury lawyers help injured persons recover compensation from the person who caused their injury. But in the few cases in which negligent behavior causes death, this type of attorney works to help the family of the person who has been killed.
This type of case is called a “wrongful death” suit. It essentially establishes that some person or party directly caused a death that would not have happened otherwise. The lawyer helps that victim’s family assemble an argument that lays out the various consequences set in motion by the loss of that person’s life. They then pursue compensation for a specified amount based on specific financial damages and approximated non-financial damages.
Wrongful death is a civil charge, not a criminal charge, but it can be pursued in cases that also have had criminal proceedings. For example, if a burglar shoots and kills the occupant of a house, that person will likely be punished for it. However, punishment against the shooter does nothing to help the people who have lost a member of their family. But a wrongful death suit can help ensure the family’s voice is heard and their rights are protected.
Because the stakes are so high and the accusations so serious, wrongful death is a very difficult lawsuit to win. In order to win a wrongful death case, a personal injury lawyer must, on behalf of the client, prove three things:
- The actions of the accused directly caused the death.
- The death would not have happened without the person’s actions (therefore it is wrongful).
- If the victim had lived, he or she would have been entitled to damages.
Often, proving these three facts requires testimony from experts in the field of whatever caused the death. For example, a professional automobile crash expert can explain how an accident unfolded and what actions caused what damage. Likewise, if it was caused by a surgical complication, an expert surgeon can testify as to whether the complication could have been prevented by the doctor.
Then it must be shown that, had the victim lived, he or she would have been entitled to damages for the injuries. For example, if a pedestrian struck by a drunk driver is paralyzed and dies because their lungs cease functioning, that person would likely have been entitled to damages for the overall paralysis had he or she survived.
Damages assessed in a wrongful death case are somewhat different from the damages for an accident survivor. Accident survivors can sue for direct financial expenses (medical bills, loss of work time, cost of therapy and transportation during recovery), future financial repercussions (lifelong treatment, inability to perform same paying job), and non-financial damages (pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life.)
In addition to these, a Chicago wrongful death lawsuit also addresses the affect the loss has on that person’s family. This may include:
- Funeral expenses (in addition to medical expenses)
- Loss of anticipated income (if the victim was a contributing member of a household)
- Mental anguish and sorrow to the survivors
- Loss of companionship for a spouse or child
- Punitive damages.