Does Illinois Have a Cap on Personal Injury Damages?

Your damages in a personal injury case should accurately reflect your injuries, losses, and expenses. While many states limit the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover, Illinois does not.

Damages in Illinois personal injury cases are not capped by statutes. This means that there are no laws limiting how much compensation a plaintiff may be awarded for any category of damages. Damages may be awarded for economic losses and psychological injuries. Punitive damages to punish the defendant or nominal damages might also be considered. While there are no hard caps set by law, there are other ways in which damages might be limited. Awards cannot be overly excessive, and damages can only be awarded for injuries claimed by the plaintiff. Even so, juries sometimes award damages based on emotional factors rather than evidence. If you decide to work out a private settlement, there are no caps. Even so, many of the above principles apply.

Contact our Illinois personal injury attorneys by calling the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502, and set up a free, private review of your case and damages.

What Kind of Damages Are Limited or Capped in Illinois Personal Injury Cases?

Damages cover a wide variety of costs, injuries, losses, and experiences. As such, there are numerous categories of damages that may or may not apply in each personal injury case. Compensatory damages encompass the economic and non-economic injuries plaintiffs incur. This tends to include financial expenses from your injuries and things like pain and suffering.

Punitive damages may be awarded to punish defendants for their bad behavior. These damages are rare, as criteria that must be shown tend to involve more extreme behavior that is not often present. Nominal damages may be awarded in lieu of other damages when plaintiffs are uninterested in money, only justice. In Illinois, all these damages remain uncapped.

Economic Damages

There is no cap on economic damages in personal injury claims. As mentioned briefly before, economic damages encompass all the injuries or losses that cost the plaintiff money. Your hospital bills, property damage costs, lost income from missing work, and other expenses are included.

Depending on the situation, economic damages might be very high. Do not worry. These damages are not capped by statute and can be as high as necessary to adequately compensate you. However, you can only claim damages based on the actual amount of money you lost. For example, if your grandfather’s watch you inherited was damaged in an accident, and it was worth $100, you may only claim $100 for the watch, even though its sentimental value might be far greater.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages include losses and injuries that did not actually cost the plaintiff money. Even so, these injuries and experiences were painful in other ways, and they still deserve fair compensation. Physical pain, mental and emotional suffering, psychological distress, humiliation, and various other negative experiences may be claimed among your damages.

Since these damages are inherently subjective, there is no way to say for sure how much compensation they are worth. Different plaintiffs might handle these situations differently, and the final value of non-economic damages is usually tailored to each case. The jury generally has the final say. In Illinois, there is no cap on non-economic damages, and they may be as high as the jury deems appropriate. Our Lincoln Park personal injury attorneys can help you present compelling evidence to convince the jury to award fair and just compensation for non-economic damages.

This is good news for people whose injuries come with lasting emotional or psychological trauma. For example, after a bad car accident, a plaintiff might be left with severe scars on their face. Such a disfigurement may lead to deep emotional pain for years. Since the emotional toll is so great, the jury is free to award a non-economic damages award that reflects the magnitude of the injury.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are unique because they are not awarded based on the plaintiff’s injuries, costs, or losses. Instead, these damages are based on the defendant’s behavior. When defendants are found to have acted in ways that shock the conscience, the court may award additional damages as a punishment.

There is no hard cap placed on punitive damages. Some cases make news headlines for the sheer size of their punitive damages awards. In particularly severe cases, punitive damages may be worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Many other states impose limits on punitive damages to prevent juries from granting awards that are overly excessive. Illinois has no such law, and punitive damages may be very high. However, punitive damages should still be proportional to the case, and they typically cannot be recovered unless there is a finding of compensatory damages.

While there is no hard limit, the law enforces rules that keep punitive damages proportional. According to 735 I.L.C.S. § 5/2-1115.05(a), punitive damages may not exceed 3 times the value of economic damages. While there is no hard cap, punitive damages cannot be arbitrarily high.

Nominal Damages

Nominal damages are somewhat unusual as they are not really intended to compensate for anything. Instead, nominal damages are only awarded to symbolize the plaintiff’s victory in court. In many cases, nominal damages are as little as a single dollar.

Considering how minor these damages are and that they are not intended to compensate for any losses or injuries, there are no statutory caps or limits.

Plaintiffs sometimes pursue nominal damages because the injuries inflicted by the defendant did not cost a lot of money. While compensatory damages might be minor or even unnecessary for some plaintiffs, they might still want justice, and nominal damages may be awarded to show that justice was served.

What Happens if the Jury Awards Extremely High Damages in an Illinois Personal Injury Case?

Juries decide damage awards in many cases, and jurors are known to sometimes make decisions based more on emotions than facts and evidence. Sometimes, when a jury decides something like non-economic damages for pain and suffering or punitive damages, they might grant an outrageously high damages award. These kinds of damages are subjective and open to interpretation, and juries might get carried away.

Although there are no hard limits on these damages, juries cannot grant outrageously high awards without some sort of justification. If the court believes the jury has awarded an overly excessive award in a flagrant disregard of evidence, the judge may reduce it to something more reasonable. This can come up in cases where a defendant is particularly unsympathetic or unlikable.

Even so, juries are often permitted to award plaintiffs more damages than they request. This often comes up in cases involving non-economic damages claims. You might claim $10,000 for pain and suffering, but the evidence shows that your suffering was much greater than alleged. In such cases, juries may award more, sometimes much more. The defendant might try to argue that this is an excessive award and should be reduced. Still, our Oak Lawn, IL personal injury lawyers can help you keep your damages award as high as possible.

Caps on Damages in Illinois Medical Malpractice Claims

Medical malpractice claims are a bit complicated when it comes to damages and limitations on damages. Many states have specific laws about damages in medical malpractice cases, often limiting them. For example, many states limit non-economic and punitive damages. Some states make punitive damages completely unavailable in these kinds of cases. In the past, Illinois was one of these states, but a court ruling in 2010 changed everything.

In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court declared the cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. The court held that whatever limit is placed on damages is a matter for a jury to decide, not the legislature. Now, there are no caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims.

While there is no limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims, there is a very hard limit on punitive damages. In malpractice claims against doctors and lawyers, punitive damages are forbidden.

Limitations on Damages in Wrongful Death Claims in Illinois

Another personal injury claim that often involves very substantial damages is wrongful death. If you lose a loved one in an accident or because of another’s wrongful actions or inactions, you can sue that person for wrongful death. Until recently, Illinois barred the recovery of punitive damages by a deceased person’s estate.

As of August 2023, this hard limitation on punitive damages in wrongful death cases is no more. Punitive damages may be claimed for the estate of a wrongful death victim. This is important in claims where a plaintiff is suing because they were made sick from exposure to toxic materials. For example, a person might sue their employer for exposing them to harmful chemicals at work without their knowledge. In the past, defendants might try to delay proceedings until the plaintiff dies of their illness, thus removing punitive damages from consideration. This is no longer possible, and you may claim the damages you and your family rightly deserve.

Are Personal Injury Damages in Illinois Limited in Ways Other Than By Statute?

Even though damages in Illinois are not capped by statute or adhere to hard limits, they might be restricted in other ways. As mentioned earlier, damages awards should be proportional to the case. Economic damages are based on actual money spent, not any sort of hypothetical monetary value. Similarly, non-economic and even punitive damages must be proportional to the case. Juries cannot award outrageously high damages in these areas simply because they dislike the defendant or find the plaintiff to be especially sympathetic.

Damages are also limited to what is actually claimed by plaintiffs when they initially file the case. Juries cannot award damages for losses the plaintiff forgot to include in their complaint unless permitted by the court. For example, suppose the plaintiff claimed numerous economic damages but forgot to include non-economic pain and suffering. Juries cannot make an award for pain and suffering, no matter how much they sympathize with the plaintiff’s situation.

Likewise, plaintiffs cannot be awarded punitive damages unless they claim punitive damages and prove them by clear and convincing evidence. Even if punitive damages are claimed, but the plaintiff does not present enough evidence to support their claims, the jury cannot award punitive damages, no matter how much they might otherwise want to.

Are Damages in Personal Injury Settlements Capped in Illinois?

Damages awarded in the courtroom are not capped by statutes, but what about damages in settlement agreements? The majority of personal injury claims end up settling out of court, and the matter of damages is worked out privately between the parties without a jury.

Since settlements are largely private agreements, they are not necessarily bound by any of the same restrictions on damages. Of course, there are caps, just like how there are no caps in the courtroom. However, whether the damages are proportional to the case is up to the parties to decide. If the defendant agrees to pay a larger-than-average settlement, that is their choice. This sometimes comes up in cases where defendants agree to pay a bit more compensation to get the plaintiff to agree to keep the settlement terms private.

While courts tend to respect settlements as the parties have worked them out, the settlements are still subject to court approval, depending on the situation. For example, settlements involving minors often need to be approved by the court. If the settlement is strangely high or low, the court might ask questions. If the court believes someone is being deceived or taken advantage of, the judge might refuse to approve the settlement.

Speak to Our Illinois Personal Injury Attorneys About Damages and Compensation for Your Case

Contact our Aurora, IL personal injury attorneys by calling the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502, and set up a free, private review of your case and damages.