2007 Amendment to Illinois Wrongful Death Act Plays Out in Federal Court Case; Hammond v. System Transport

In 2007, Illinois amended the Wrongful Death Act to add language saying, “including damages for grief, sorrow and mental suffering.” The language was added to the description of available wrongful death damages.

According to this Chicago federal court case, Hammond v. System Transport, Inc., the Illinois legislature’s intentions in amending the wrongful death statute “was to compensate for the spouse’s and next of kin’s emotional consequences from the end of a decedent’s life, including the process or manner of death.”  The damages, grief, sorrow and mental suffering resulting from the manner of death may be compensable under the Wrongful Death Act, according to the case opinion.

However, the court held that “evidence of defendant Austin’s [the truck driver’s] negligence, such as the allegation that he violated rules limiting the hours he could work before resting, which resulted in his falling asleep and running a stop sign, is not relevant to plaintiff’s claim.” 

The federal court relied on an Illinois Supreme Court case, Bullard v. Barnes, 102 Ill.2d 505 (1984) for the authority in which Robert Austin, the truck driver, and his employer, System Transport, acknowledged their liability under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act for the accident and death of Curtis J. Hammond Sr. and Eileen Hammond, the defendants, requested that the district court judge bar “evidence concerning the circumstances and manner of the decedents’ death.”  This included testimony that Austin had fallen asleep and had run a stop sign because of his violation of the length of hours of service regulation.

Before 2007, the term “pecuniary injuries” had been interpreted by Illinois courts to include noneconomic losses, specifically loss of society. Damages based on grief, sorrow and mental anguish before 2007 were not allowed under the law.

In this case, it was the first time that courts had been confronted with the issue of whether evidence of the manner of death is relevant to grief, sorrow and mental suffering. According to the interpretation of 740 ILCS 180/2, the amended Wrongful Death Act, grief, sorrow and mental suffering are compensable only insofar as they are injuries stemming from the wrongful death.

The Hammond federal district court ruled, based on an analysis of definitions that grief, sorrow and mental suffering would be compensable only if it arises from the death, not from the negligence that preceded the death. It found that any evidence of the defendants’ negligent acts or omissions that led to the cause of the crash and the death of the plaintiffs was irrelevant and would be excluded at the trial. Thus, the fact that the defendant truck driver violated a federal law with respect to hours that he was driving would not be heard by the jury. 

Hammond v. System Transport, Inc., No. 11-cv-1295 (April 26, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling truck accidents, car crashes and automobile accidents for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Warrenville, Riverside, Oak Lawn, Alsip, Chicago (Garfield Park), Harwood Heights, Elmhurst, Chicago (Lake View), Arlington Heights, Fox River Grove, Des Plaines, Chicago (Roscoe Village) and St. Charles, Ill.

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