What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in Illinois is two years, meaning you have two years from the time of a loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit against liable parties. Knowing the statute of limitations and how it works will give you a better idea of how much time you actually have to build a case.

Wrongful death word or concept represented by wooden letter tiles on a wooden table.

Wrongful Death in Illinois

Wrongful death claims may result when a person dies due to the negligence or malicious behavior of a liable party, which could include a person or entity. While parties responsible for wrongful deaths may face criminal charges for their acts, a wrongful death claim is a separate civil case.

The goal of filing a wrongful death claim is to recover financial compensation for various losses resulting from a loved one’s death, enabling the loved one’s family members to benefit from a settlement while holding the liable party responsible.

The Illinois Wrongful Death Act gives citizens the ability to file wrongful death claims when warranted, during which the claimants may recover multiple types of compensation, including:

  • Economic Damages — These damages refer to the financial losses sustained because of and leading up to a person’s death. These damages may include medical expenses for treatment before the victim passed, hospitalization, ambulance rides, lost income and lost future income, and the cost of funeral and burial services, among other costs.
  • Non-Economic Damages — Claimants may also recover compensation for the personal losses resulting from a person’s death. For instance, non-economic damages may include physical pain that the victim suffered leading up to his or her death, psychological distress such as anxiety and depression that loved ones suffer, and loss of consortium or companionship resulting from the victim’s death.
  • Punitive Damages — In rare cases, punitive damages may also contribute to a total settlement in a wrongful death case. These are different from compensatory economic and non-economic damages in that they aim to punish the defendant for egregious behavior. Only the courts can award these in a trial case.

Types of Incidents That Can Lead to Wrongful Death Claims

Many types of incidents could result in someone’s death and a wrongful death claim. The following are some of the most common incidents:

  • Work accidents
  • Boating accidents
  • Premises liability
  • Product liability
  • Car and truck accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents

An attorney can identify the damages available in a pedestrian accident lawsuit or any other type of wrongful death case.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Illinois

Like other civil cases, Illinois wrongful death cases have a statute of limitations that gives claimants a limited amount of time to file a claim. This statute of limitations encourages claimants to file early on, preventing the deterioration or loss of evidence and other factors that can decrease the chances of success in the years following a wrongful death incident.

In Illinois, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is two years from the time of the victim’s death. This statute gives claimants two years to file a claim before they’re unable to recover compensation, but there are exceptions that can extend the statute of limitations.

Factors That May Impact the Statute of Limitations

While most cases must be initiated before the end of the two-year statute of limitations, certain elements can affect wrongful death deadlines.

Some situations could lead to a longer statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. Two of these can include when the claimant is a minor and when the defendant is out of the state or impossible to locate.

For example, a minor may lose his or her loved ones in an accident, preventing him or her from filing a claim until he or she reaches the age of consent.

Cases may benefit from longer statutes of limitations if they involve multiple defendants. Each defendant may require a different statute of limitations. Additionally, cases involving government entities could have shorter statutes of limitations and come with unique requirements. Conversely, the statute of limitations may be longer for cases involving criminal acts.

In other cases, defendants may be outside the state or hard to locate, which could also lead to a pause in the statute of limitations.

Some cases could involve circumstances that make it unclear that victims’ loved ones have grounds for a wrongful death case, often through fraudulent misrepresentation. An example of this could be a pharmaceutical company that is aware of but hides information about the risks of taking a certain medication, or when defendants otherwise attempt to conceal their negligence. Plaintiffs in these cases may not realize until long after their loved one’s death that they have a valid claim, which could warrant an extension of the statute.

If you’re not sure what factors could impact your case’s statute of limitations, experienced wrongful death lawyers could help identify any circumstances that could extend or shorten the statute.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

Although it may still be possible to file a claim after the statute of limitations passes in some instances, you generally will have minimal options available to you after missing this deadline.

You could be unable to successfully file a claim or lawsuit after the statute passes. Even if you can still file, critical pieces of evidence could depreciate or become lost at some point, limiting your ability to prove liability and the damages you and your loved one sustained.

If you want to maximize your chances of success with a wrongful death case, it’s in your best interest to file on time. If you need help with building your case and ensuring you file on time, a wrongful death attorney can assist you.

Why You Should Consult With a Legal Professional for Guidance

If you have a viable wrongful death claim and want to recover compensation for damages resulting from a loved one’s loss, you may be able to succeed with a claim against a liable party. However, you may not be able to succeed with your case without adequate representation.

For example, you may have questions like “What is the personal injury claim process?” and “How much compensation can I recover?” An attorney can answer these and other questions pertaining to your case, helping you determine what options are available to you and maximizing your settlement amount.

The right lawyer will perform multiple services when representing you in a wrongful death case. For instance, he or she will be able to obtain all relevant evidence to support your claim, including medical bills and receipts, police reports, accident reports, and photo and video evidence. In addition, an attorney can help you negotiate a settlement with defendants and their insurers, determining the actual value of your case in the process.

An attorney can help you take the case to trial if you wish to file a lawsuit. The legal process can be difficult to navigate, which is why it pays to have a lawyer by your side in a trial case. He or she can present opening and closing arguments, collect and organize evidence, hire expert witnesses, and perform other services to increase your chances of success with your case.

When looking for an attorney, schedule multiple consultations and get a feel for each lawyer. Be sure to ask plenty of relevant questions to get a feel for your options and the attorney, which can help you better gauge whether the attorney is a good fit. Also, discuss the fees you’ll need to pay for representation, as a wrongful death lawyer should charge a contingency fee. This particular fee would only require you to pay if the attorney achieves a settlement.

Filing Before Reaching the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death

Knowing the statute of limitations for your case can help you determine how much time you actually have to build and file a case. You should avoid wasting any time to increase your chances of succeeding with your case and recovering full compensation.

An experienced attorney who’s worked on cases like yours can help ensure you file on time and calculate the total amount of compensation you’re able to recover. By filing on time, you’ll avoid running out of options when it comes to compensation, and you can be on your way to recovering economic, non-economic, or even punitive damages from liable parties.

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Keith & Robert Shindler

Keith & Robert Shindler are partners at the personal injury law firm of Shindler & Shindler, Attorneys at Law. The brothers focus their practice on protecting the rights of injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. They take pride in handling every case personally, and delivering top-notch legal services to the people of Illinois.

Years of Experience: More than 65 years of combined experience
Bar & Court Admissions: Active

Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois Wisconsin United State District Court, Northern District Illinois United State District Court, Central District Illinois