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Illinois Personal Injury & Criminal Defense / Blog / Personal Injury / Illinois Now Allows Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Illinois Now Allows Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases


Illinois has made a change to the law that will affect wrongful death lawsuits. Previously, the law barred individuals from seeking punitive damages in wrongful death cases. Now, a plaintiff will be able to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death suit. In some cases, this will increase the size of the verdict.

Illinois still doesn’t allow punitive damages in medical malpractice cases, legal malpractice cases, or lawsuits filed against the government. The new rule went into effect on August 11, 2023.

What are punitive damages in wrongful death cases? 

Damages in a personal injury lawsuit refer to the compensation a plaintiff receives when they win or settle a lawsuit. While compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and prevent them from committing the same conduct again. Punitive damages are awarded in cases of gross negligence. One popular way in which punitive damages enter into a personal injury lawsuit is when a driver injures another driver while they are drunk. The plaintiff can sue for gross negligence, or negligence that goes far beyond what would be considered ordinary negligence.

Gross negligence versus ordinary negligence 

To win punitive damages, you must establish gross negligence. When it comes to car accident lawsuits, a driver who shows no regard for the safety of others on the road can be accused of gross negligence. Ordinary negligence occurs when an individual fails to take precautions that another individual, in their place, would have taken.

Examples of ordinary negligence include:

  • Running a red light
  • Speeding
  • Failing to put up a “wet floor” sign
  • A pet owner failing to secure their dog
  • Tailgating

Gross negligence goes above and beyond ordinary negligence. A plaintiff alleging gross negligence must establish that the defendant showed a reckless disregard for the safety of others making a potential injury inevitable. Examples of gross negligence include

  • Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • A proprietor leaving a dangerous condition on their premises after someone has already been injured
  • Reckless driving

How to prove gross negligence in a personal injury lawsuit 

To prove negligence, you must establish:

  • Duty – The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • Breach – The defendant failed to render an ordinary duty of care.
  • Causation – The breach directly led to the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Injury – The plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of the breach.

Proving gross negligence requires the expertise of a seasoned personal injury attorney. If you have been injured due to reckless driving or another type of gross negligence, the attorneys at Patel Law, PC can help you recover damages related to your medical expenses, lost wages, reduced quality of life, and punitive damages, if appropriate. Call our Champaign personal injury lawyers today to schedule a free consultation, and we can begin discussing your lawsuit immediately.

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