Grief and Sorrow: Next of kin damages

We want to hear from you! To receive the full published report of any case below contact the associate editor at $5 per case/$20 for the focus. JVR hardcopy subscribers can request a list of only the JVR index numbers for $10.
Grief and Sorrow:  Next of Kin Damages

The January 2013 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal includes “Pursuing Claims for Grief Under the Wrongful Death Act,” an excellent article written by attorneys Elizabeth Felt Wakeman and Gregory J. Barry of Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle (Crystal Lake). As the article notes, prior to revision of the Wrongful Death Act effective May 31, 2007, longstanding case law had held that the grief, sorrow and mental suffering of the surviving spouse or next of kin in wrongful death actions was not to be considered by the jury in determining fair compensation.  Since that revision, these additional elements of damages have been available to next of kin in addition to loss of society.

As might be expected, it took some time for cases in which next of kin made claims seeking compensation for Grief/Sorrow to go to trial. The first such trial to be summarized by the Jury Verdict Reporter was a McHenry County matter in which the 49-year-old decedent was survived by an 8-year-old son, who was awarded $100,000 for grief, sorrow and mental suffering in addition to $500,000 for loss of society in January 2011. Interestingly enough, that case was tried by attorneys Kevin G. Costello and Elizabeth Felt Wakeman of the Zukowski, Rogers firm.

When I checked the AccessPlus® database of published cases, I found that since 2011, we have reported a dozen Illinois trials in which compensation for Grief/Sorrow/Mental Suffering was awarded to next of kin by the juries. Here are a few selected summaries.

$5,500,000 Verdict (Ogle County):  M-60 was killed and F-58 seriously injured when their motorcycle collided with defendants’ left-turning semi-tractor trailer on Route 38 at the entrance ramp for I-39 (Rochelle, IL). The verdict included awards of $100,000 each for loss of society and grief/sorrow.

$16,410,465 Verdict (Cook County):  Four children were killed when a fire engulfed the mobile trailer home in which they were sleeping. They were survived by their mother and one sibling. This product liability action faulted the manufacturer of an upright oil-filled electric space heater. The verdict included awards of $2,500,000 to each child’s estate for “loss of companionship and grief.”

$1,808,075 Verdict (Cook County):  M-73, who had several pre-existing medical conditions, developed an infection and died after undergoing a TRUS prostate biopsy. He was survived by seven grown children. The jury awarded the decedent’s estate $70,000 for grief and sorrow, plus $100,000 for loss of society damages.

$8,500,000 Verdict (Cook County):  Allegedly, defendant Chicago Police officer fatally shot M-18, then planted a gun to make it appear that the decedent was armed during the incident. The teen was survived by his mother and brother. The jury’s award consisted of $6,000,000 for loss of society and $2,500,000 for grief and sorrow.

$8,000,000 Verdict (Cook County):  F-36 was killed instantly (survived by her husband and two children) when she was hit by defendant’s semi-tractor trailer while on the shoulder of I-294 inspecting her disabled car. The jury verdict included $3,000,000 for loss of society, and $4,500,000 for grief and sorrow.

$3,770,125 Verdict (St. Clair County):  M-38 was killed when the walls of a trench in which he was working collapsed. He was survived by his wife and daughter. The verdict, $4.7 million reduced by 20% for the decedent’s contributory negligence, included $1,700,000 each to the next of kin for grief and loss of society.

$13,086,208 Verdict (Cook County):  Allegedly, F-newborn died due to defendants’ failure to timely diagnose and treat a congenital birth defect. She was survived by her parents and one sister. The jury’s award included $6,500,000 for loss of society, plus $1,250,000 for grief, sorrow and mental suffering.

Click here to take the Editor's Spring Poll