Punitive Damages Now Available in Illinois Wrongful Death Actions

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Illinois has become the 34th state to allow punitive damages in a wrongful death suit.

Changes to the Wrongful Death Act

Illinois House Bill 219, which was introduced in January 2023, has been signed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. After passing both houses on May 18, 2023, Pritzker signed the bill into law on August 11. House Bill 219 (“HB 219”) amends the Wrongful Death Act by allowing a deceased individual’s personal representatives to ask a jury to award punitive damages in wrongful death cases. Plaintiffs in tort actions had previously been limited to recovering punitive damages in cases where the plaintiff was living. HB 219 now allows a deceased plaintiff’s surviving spouse and next of kin to seek punitive damages under a wrongful death claim, with no limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded.

Legislative History

HB 219 is a direct response to the Illinois Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Marston v. Walgreen Company. In Marston, a jury awarded $25 million in punitive damages to the plaintiff, the independent administrator of the estate of a deceased man, after the jury found Walgreens to have been negligent in providing the deceased with the wrong prescription drugs. Walgreens appealed the judgment, and the Illinois Supreme Court, in vacating the $25 million punitive damage award, held that, “actions for punitive damages will not survive the death of the original plaintiff unless the legislature specifically authorizes such an action or there are strong equitable reasons for allowing the recovery of punitive damages.” HB 219 is the legislature’s authorization for the recovery of punitive damages by a deceased person’s spouse and next of kin.

Exceptions

Several exceptions to HB 219 exist. Punitive damages are not available for legal malpractice actions, medical malpractice actions, and actions against state and local governments. HB 219 applies to actions filed on and after August 11, 2023.

Should you have any questions or need assistance on this new law, please contact the attorney at Airdo Werwas, LLC, with whom you regularly work.

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