The only thing worse than losing a loved one, is doing so when it wasn’t their time. Often this is the result of the negligence or intentional act of someone. When that happens, you may have a wrongful death lawsuit.

In Illinois, there are time limits for suing over a death. It is all covered in the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. The Act states that whenever a death happens, you can sue the party responsible for damages, sometimes including punitive damages. Generally speaking, these lawsuits have to be filed within two years of the death. There are two big exceptions to that which I’ll discuss, but I’d say 99% of calls we get have the two year time limit apply.

In considering a lawsuit, you should know that there aren’t loopholes to this time limit. About once a month someone will call me who lost a loved one more than two years ago. When I ask why they didn’t call sooner I usually hear that they were grieving and not ready to process it. That makes sense and is a normal emotional reaction. Unfortunately it doesn’t get you around the time limits. The same holds true for people who tell me they hadn’t contacted a lawyer because they’ve been busy, sick, moving, thought someone else was doing it or just about anything else.

Time limits are in place to make the process fair to all parties and because over time, witnesses disappear and memories fade. It’s not seen as fair to a defendant to make them try to fight a case that they didn’t know was coming for over two years.

There are, as I said, two really big exceptions.

The first has to do with criminal cases. Let me quote the statute for you:

An action may be brought within 5 years after the date of the death if the death is the result of violent intentional conduct or within one year after the final disposition of the criminal case if the defendant is charged with:
(1) first degree murder under Section 9-1 of the
    Criminal Code of 2012;
(2) intentional homicide of an unborn child under
    Section 9-1.2 of the Criminal Code of 2012;
(3) second degree murder under Section 9-2 of the
    Criminal Code of 2012;
(4) voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child under
    Section 9-2.1 of the Criminal Code of 2012;
(5) involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide
    under Section 9-3 of the Criminal Code of 2012;
(6) involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide of
    an unborn child under Section 9-3.2 of the Criminal Code of 2012; or
(7) drug-induced homicide under Section 9-3.3 of the
    Criminal Code of 2012.

Basically you may have up to five years if the death is from violent intentional conduct or up to one year after criminal charges have been resolved. That said, it’s playing with fire to wait too long and we always encourage people to act sooner rather than later so their rights aren’t lost. And note, that this extension only applies to suing and recovering from the criminal defendant, nobody else.

The other exception has to do with children who had a right to bring the lawsuit. In their case, it can be brought within two years of them turning 18. Again, we strongly advise you to bring a lawsuit or at least consult with an attorney ASAP so you don’t lose your rights.

These are tough situations, but a great Illinois wrongful death attorney can take the emotion out of the situation and help you determine if there’s even a case at all. If you’d like to speak with an attorney for free, please call us any time at 312-346-5320.