“Damages” are a legal term of art that generally refer to the compensation that one can receive after being harmed by another’s misconduct. When an Illinois nursing home resident is abused or mistreated, the senior or their family can recover damage by pursuing a civil lawsuit.
But what exact damages can be recovered? Most are familiar with the main forms of recovery, including medical bills or pain and suffering. One important form of recoverable damages in Illinois nursing homes is less well understood–recovery for grief, sorrow, and mental anguish of surviving family members.
Understanding the Law
It was not until 2007 that Illinois law was amended to specifically allow recovery for this suffering of survivors via changes to the state’s Wrongful Death Act. These damages are distinct in that they are awarded not to the senior who was mistreated but their next of kin. In the past, the law offered only very limited damages for survivors after their loved ones died as a result of abuse or neglect. Before 2007 only “pecuniary injuries” could be recovered, which means injuries with a direct monetary or economic value. In practical terms, this meant that family members could only recovery for theoretical benefits that they would have received were the individual still alive. Because seniors rarely still earned an income or provide critical household services, there were almost no pecuniary injuries to compensate.
Of course, by limiting damages in that context, the old law drastically missed a very real harm resulting from the misconduct–the grief, sorrow, and mental anguish of surviving family members.
These emotions are present any time that a family member passes away. But their strength may be particularly acute in cases of nursing home abuse, because the decision to place seniors into homes are often made by close relatives. Unfortunately, there is often an immense sense of guilt with which family members struggle. The amendment to the law allows families to recover for that suffering.
Proving Grief, Sorrow, & Mental Anguish
The specific evidence shown to prove the grief and sorrow experienced by a family may vary from case to case. However, in Illinois nursing home neglect deaths the matter will often be straightforward. After all, if a death is preventable, caused by negligence, and traumatic, then it is virtually assured that family members will suffer extensively. Research shows conclusively that grief is often magnified in cases of sudden death, particularly where elements of guilt may exist.
In fact, that general line of reasoning made its way into the only major court opinion to address the issue since the law was changed in 2007. Last year, in Hammond v. Sys. Transport, Inc., a federal district court noted that “just as a peaceful death may bring comfort to grieving loved ones, knowing that a loved one died in a violent death could understandably increase the resulting grief, sorrow and mental suffering.”