Heyl Royster

New Law Would Permit Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Posted on May 19, 2023 at 2:00 PM by Tobin Taylor

On May 18, 2023, the Illinois General Assembly passed Illinois House Bill 219 which would allow the recovery of punitive damages in wrongful death cases marking a major shift in the public policy and tort law of Illinois.  Historically, public policy and court decisions since 1975 have precluded the award of punitive damages in death cases. The new legislation provides that an action brought under the Wrongful Death Act may recover damages, including punitive damages, when applicable. The new law would exempt actions against local governmental entities and actions for healing art malpractice or legal malpractice.

The manner of the legislation’s passage merits observation. In the waning days of the legislative session, lawmakers introduced an “amendment” to an existing bill that was wholly unrelated to punitive damages or the Wrongful Death statute.  That amendment deleted the entirety of the prior legislation and replaced it with the current text that will now head to the Governor’s desk where, if signed, will become law. The last minute “amendment” to a “shell bill” has unfortunately become a strategy in which legislators and their influential lobby groups fast track a bill in a manner that does not allow significant opportunity for public commentary.

A link to text of the legislation can be found here: https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=0219&GAID=17&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=142051&SessionID=112&SpecSess=0&Session=0&GA=103

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