Can You Get Punitive Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case in Illinois?

Under Illinois laws, injured victims and their families cannot recover punitive damages in a medical malpractice case. In August 2023, Governor Pritzker signed HB 219, allowing victims’ families to recover punitive damages in wrongful death claims and survival actions. However, Illinois still does not allow punitive damages to be recovered in cases involving medical malpractice, legal malpractice, or cases against a government entity.

Tired depressed old male doctor feels desperate thinking of medical problem feels burnout. Punitive damages in a medical malpractice case

If you were hurt at the hands of a negligent healthcare provider, call the medical malpractice attorneys at Ankin Law for help. 312-600-0000.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are awarded in personal injury lawsuits by courts and juries, in addition to compensatory damages. The majority of states permit plaintiffs to seek punitive damages in civil cases, however, each state has its own rules and regulations governing the types of cases in which punitive damages can be sought, as well as other limitations. For example, some states only permit punitive damages if the defendant acted with intent to harm or in a grossly negligent or reckless way.

As its name indicates, punitive damages are awarded to punish egregious or serious misconduct on the part of the defendant. An award of punitive damages is meant to serve several purposes:

  • Punishment – While defendants in civil cases can’t be punished with imprisonment, punitive damages can be used to punish a defendant who has acted reprehensibly toward the plaintiff.
  • Specific or Individual Deterrence. Punitive damages are also awarded as a form of deterrence, that is, they’re meant to deter the defendant from engaging in the misconduct again.
  •  General Deterrence. Punitive damages also serve to deter other individuals and entities from engaging in the same kind of misconduct for which the defendant was found guilty.

Are Punitive Damages Allowed in Illinois?

In Illinois, punitive damages in a medical malpractice case are not allowed. On August 11, 2023, Governor Pritzker signed HB 219 to allow punitive damages to be recoverable in wrongful death and survival actions. The amendments to the Wrongful Death Act apply to cases filed on or after the effective date of the August 11, 2023 statute. However, the amendment to the Survival Act applies immediately, suggesting that punitive damages may be sought in existing cases with claims under the Survival Act.

The recent statutes that address punitive damages in Illinois require the plaintiff to file a motion to take leave of the court and have a hearing to plead such a claim. At the hearing, the plaintiff must present facts and sufficient evidence to support punitive damages. The motion seeking to plead punitive damages must be filed no later than 30 days after the close of discovery.

Although punitive damages may now be available in wrongful death and survival claims involving motor vehicle accidents, product liability, and premises liability, people still cannot recover punitive damages in medical malpractice cases even if medical negligence caused a death.

Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages

Personal injury cases generally allow for two types of damages: compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are monetary awards that are meant to compensate a victim for his or her losses. They are designed to make the victim feel “whole” again by reimbursing him or her for expenses or losses incurred due to the other party’s actions. Compensatory damages are often awarded in cases involving breach of contract, personal injury, or property damage. Payments for compensatory damages are calculated based on the victim’s actual losses.

What damages are available in a medical malpractice claim?

  • Special Damages – Special damages can be quantified and are directly related to the losses suffered by the injury victim. They usually include medical expenses for doctor’s visits, lab tests, imaging tests, and prescriptions, lost wages due to time away from a job, and repair costs for physical damage to a structure or vehicle.
  • General damages – General damages cannot be quantified in the same way as special damages. General damages are related to the victim’s physical pain and suffering, emotional distress caused by the injury, and loss of general enjoyment of life.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are monetary awards meant to punish the guilty party who is responsible for the victim’s injury. Punitive damages are calculated based on the severity of the wrongful behavior and the need for deterrence. However, there are usually limits attached to the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. In Illinois, punitive damages are not awarded in medical malpractice cases.

Legal Standards for Punitive Damages in Illinois

Punitive damages are considered appropriate when the defendant’s conduct goes beyond carelessness or negligence. When considering punitive damages in personal injury cases in Illinois, courts and juries consider:

  • The circumstances of the defendant’s conduct
  • If the defendant’s conduct was intentional, willful, or fraudulent
  • Whether the defendant tried to conceal the wrongdoing
  • The harm caused to the injured victim
  • The financial vulnerability of the injured victim
  • How frequently the defendant’s misconduct occurred

When Are Punitive Damages Not Allowed in Illinois?

Under Illinois law, punitive damages may not be sought in cases that involve legal malpractice, medical malpractice, or claims against a government entity, regardless of whether those cases involve a wrongful death. Common examples of medical malpractice include the following:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition
  •  Improper medical care and treatment of a patient
  • Anesthesia dosage and surgical errors
  • Medication and prescription errors
  • Defective medical equipment that causes errors
  • Failure to follow up with patients after treatments

Although you cannot recover punitive damages in a medical malpractice case in Illinois, there are many other types of damages that may be available to you and your family. Contacting an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at our law firm in Chicago can help ensure that your recovery is maximized. Your attorney will review your losses, work with experts to understand how your injuries will impact your life in the future, and guide you through how to file a medical malpractice claim.

For more information on punitive damages in Illinois, contact us at Ankin Law in Chicago for a free case evaluation.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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