Illinois Appellate Court Holds That Jury Was Wrong in Choosing Not to Award Loss of Society in Death Case – Watson v. South Shore Nursing & Rehab

In order to file a civil lawsuit, you need to have some concrete damages, such as medical bills, lost time from work, or property damage. However, oftentimes a party might also be seeking some non-concrete damages, such as loss of normal life, pain and suffering, or loss of society. The cost of these non-concrete damages is more subjective and therefore harder for the jury to quantify. However, the difficulty in determining the cost of these damages should not preclude a jury from awarding them.
In the Illinois wrongful death lawsuit of Estate of William Sloan, deceased v. South Shore Nursing & Rehabilitation Center LLC, et al. 09 L 14819, the trial jury elected not to award any damages for the plaintiffs’ loss of society. As a result, the plaintiffs appealed the jury verdict for its exclusion of the plaintiffs’ loss of society claim on the basis that the plaintiffs themselves had also suffered as a result of the decedent’s death.
The original lawsuit was filed after William Sloan, a resident at South Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, lit himself on fire after being left unsupervised in his room. Sloan had been trying to light a cigarette, but ended up setting himself on fire and suffering from first, second, and third degree burns. Those burns left Sloan susceptible to developing an infection, which in turn led to his death.
Sloan’s daughters brought a wrongful death claim against the nursing home for its negligence in leaving Sloan unsupervised with smoking materials. The claim was brought under the Illinois Nursing Home Act and alleged that South Shore was responsible for Sloan’s death. The Illinois jury entered a $1.65 million verdict against South Shore, which included damages for Sloan’s medical expenses, his pain and suffering, disfigurement from the fire, and for his loss of normal life. However, the verdict failed to include any damages for the loss of society his daughters suffered upon his death.

The Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions define loss of society as the loss of those “mutual benefits that each family member receives from the others’ continued existence, including love, affection, care, attention, companionship, comfort, guidance and protection.” At the Illinois trial, Sloan’s daughters had both testified as to their personal loss following their father’s death. Their testimony stated that even though their father was 86 years-old, that he was the center of their family. Both daughters visited their father regularly and testified that they relied on his conversation and the wisdom and comfort he provided.
After reviewing the case facts, the Illinois Appellate Court found that the manifest weight of the evidence suggested that Sloan’s daughters did suffer a personal loss related to Sloan’s death. Therefore, the appellate court held that the Cook County jury verdict was “irreconcilably inconsistent” based on its failure to include an award for loss of society.
To support its finding, the appellate court cited two other cases in which a court ruled that a jury’s failure to include a specific damage was inconsistent with the case facts: Casey v. Pohlman, 198 Ill.App.3d 503 (1990), and Stamp v. Sylvan, 391 Ill.App.3d 117 (2009). And while neither Casey and Stamp involved loss of society claims, they both involved loss of consortium claims specifically dealing with loss of companionship. Loss of consortium deals with the loss a spouse suffers when his/her spouse becomes injured.
Both Casey and Stamp reversed jury verdicts which failed to include loss of companionship claims despite uncontroverted evidence that the uninjured party did in fact suffer. Similarly, the appellate court found that it was undisputed that the Sloan sisters had suffered the loss of society of their father. And because there was no expert testimony presented that suggested that Sloan had a shortened life expectancy based on some other illness, South Shore could not claim that the Sloan sisters would have suffered this loss of society regardless of its negligence. As a result, the appellate court reversed the jury’s failure to include any damages for loss of society and remanded the case for further proceedings. Ernestine Watson, as independent administrator of the Estate of William Sloan, deceased v. South Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC., 2012 IL App. (1st) 103730.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Chicago’s Roseland, Chicago’s Lawndale, Elwood, River Grove, Norridge, Lincolnwood, Calumet City, and Western Springs.
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