The General Assembly has sent a bill to Gov. Blagoevich for signature that would allow juries to consider the grief of surviving family members as part of the damages in a wrongful death case. Hopefully, the governor will sign the bill.
One thing that most people are unaware of is that the damages in a wrongful death case are controlled by a statute — the Wrongful Death Act. By statute, the jury is allowed to only consider “pecuniary losses”. This term has been construed by the courts to include two main items: (1) loss of economic support and (2) loss of society, or the loss of the family relationship. Jurors are actually instructed as part of the standard, pattern instructions that they should not consider the grief of the surviving relatives in assessng the damages. In wrongful death cases, defense attorneys routinely request orders be entered barring the surviving relatives from expressing their grief in court.
Allowing grief to be considered as part of the damages provides a fairer measure of compensation in certain classes of wrongful death cases. One example would be where the decedent is a very young child or is an very elderly parent. In either of those examples, the economic loss would be minimal and the loss of society damages would be impacted by the young or advanced age of the decedent. However, the premature loss of a child or a parent frequently results in prfound grief for the survivors. In every wrongful death case, grief is an important reality.
Money cannot bring the dead back to life, but allowing damages for grief allows juries to focus on the real impact of a wrongful death on the survivors.