In January, Illinois House of Representatives member La Shawn K. Ford introduced House Bill 35, amending the Illinois Wrongful Death Act to allow for the recovery of punitive damages in wrongful death actions. If signed into law, the statutory change will allow heirs of decedents to recover punitive damages in wrongful death actions.
Approximately one year ago, Representative Ford introduced a similar version of the bill. That version died, thanks to the efforts of a group that included representatives of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Health Care Association, Illinois Manufacturers' Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and Illinois Defense Counsel.
The current proposed amendment to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, HB 35, suggests:
Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages including punitive damages, in respect thereof, then and in every such case the person who or company or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, including punitive damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount in law to felony.
740 ILCS 180/1, as proposed (emphasis added)
Since the 1975 decision of Mattyasovszky v West Towns Bus, 61 Ill.2d 31 (1975), Illinois law has held no recovery of punitive damages in common law actions based on the Wrongful Death Act. Also, in Froud v Celotex Corp., 98 Ill.2d 324 (1983), the Illinois Supreme Court held no recovery of punitive damages in common law actions based on the Survival Act.
Johnson & Bell will continue to monitor the legislation and will provide an update if the legislation is signed into law. For more information on this bill, contact Johnson & Bell Shareholder, Charles P. Rantis.