The Wrongful Deaths of Madison County

By Hebrank, Jeff S. | Risk Management, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The Wrongful Deaths of Madison County


Hebrank, Jeff S., Risk Management


On May 31, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed into law House Bill 1798, allowing juries to award damages to the surviving heirs of a wrongful death claimant for grief, sorrow and mental anguish, which will likely further escalate the already elevated tort damages corporate defendants face in long-standing "judicial hellholes" such as Madison County, Illinois.

Prior to the enactment of House Bill 1798, Illinois courts had specifically prohibited juries from considering grief, sorrow and mental anguish of the surviving heirs of the wrongfully deceased person because it was felt they were not a "pecuniary injury," under the Wrongful Death Act, which had governed "just compensation" for wrongful death torts since it was enacted in 1853.

The term "pecuniary injuries" has been defined as a loss or injury able to be assigned a monetary value. Illinois courts have struggled over the years with defining what types of injuries are considered "pecuniary injuries" compensable under the Wrongful Death Act.

Over the course of 154 years of jurisprudence, however, plaintiffs have been successful in convincing courts that the loss of companionship, guidance, advice, love and affection of the deceased are capable of being assigned monetary value, and now, with the enactment of House Bill 1798, the plaintiffs' bar has been successful in adding to the already broad and subjective factors for a jury to consider.

What is the practical effect of the enactment of House Bill 1798? Consider the potential liabilities in a wrongful death case in the arena of asbestos litigation. The harsh reality of the disease mesothelioma is that it is a terminal illness.

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