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Illinois Wrongful Death Law

When someone commits an act that results in another person's death, whether it's intentional or the result of negligence, they may face criminal charges such as murder or involuntary manslaughter. But even when they're charged as crimes, the victim's survivors (children, spouse) may file a civil claim for damages caused by that person's act. This is called a wrongful death claim and, as the notorious O.J. Simpson case showed, it requires a lower burden of proof than that required in a criminal case.

In Illinois, the surviving spouse or child of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim against the party or parties responsible for the death. The following provides an overview of Illinois wrongful death law.

Illinois Wrongful Death Law: The Basics

When you're dealing with a loved one's death, the last thing you want to do is decipher dense legal texts. To help you out, we've summarized some of the most important details of Illinois' wrongful death statute in the chart below.


Illinois Statutes, Chapter 740, Section 180 (Wrongful Death Act)

When is a Wrongful Death Action Warranted?

Whenever a person's death is caused by another party's wrongful act, neglect, or default.

Time Limits for Filing and Qualifying Offenses for Intentional Acts

A wrongful death action in civil court may be brought within 5 years after the date of the death if the death is the result of violent intentional conduct or within one year after the criminal case is adjudicated if the defendant is charged with:

  1. First degree murder;
  2. Intentional homicide of an unborn child (Ch. 720, section 9-1.2);
  3. Second-degree murder;
  4. Voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child (Ch. 720, section 9-2.1);
  5. Involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide;
  6. Involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide of an unborn child (Ch. 720, section 9-3.2); or
  7. Drug-induced homicide (Ch. 720, section 9-3.3).

For death resulting from negligence or other acts not listed above, a wrongful death action may be brought within 2 years after the date of the death.

Parties Entitled to Recovery

Amount recovered is for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin (in proportion of each survivor's dependency upon the deceased person).

In the absence of a surviving spouse or next of kin, damages are for the exclusive benefit of:

  1. The party (or parties) providing hospital services in connection with the deceased person's last illness or injury (up to $450);
  2. The party (or parties) providing medical or surgical services in connection with the deceased person's last illness or injury (up to $450); and/or
  3. Personal representative(s) as reimbursement for estate administration and other such duties (up to $900, plus reasonable attorney's fees).
Damages Allowed

The jury may award whatever damages are determined to be fair and just with respect to losses resulting from the person's death, including damages for:

  • Grief;
  • Sorrow; and
  • Mental suffering by surviving spouse and/or next of kin.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

  • Illinois Law - Information about Illinois statutes, including those pertaining to criminal, family, employment, and injury law.
  • Official State Codes - Links to the official online statutes (laws) in all 50 states and DC.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim? Get Expert Legal Counsel

Losing a loved one to the reckless or intentionally violent acts of another can be quite devastating. Determining whether you have a valid wrongful death claim is difficult enough even when you're not in the grieving process. This is why a legal professional experienced in such matters can make a world of difference and help you make the right decision. Find a Illinois personal injury attorney near you to get answers and an advocate on your side.

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