Firm News

Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Argument that Punitive Damages Survive a Resident's Death Under the Nursing Home Care Act

The Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld the long-standing rule of law that punitive damages do not survive death, even under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act (NHCA). The plaintiff in Vincent v. Alden-Park Strathmoor, Inc., included in his wrongful death and survival complaint a reservation of rights to later file a prayer for punitive damages under the Illinois Survival Act, where the resident died, allegedly as a result of violations of the NHCA. The facility successfully moved to dismiss this "reservation," and this ruling was upheld on plaintiff's interlocutory appeal. Plaintiff then sought review from the Supreme Court, where he attempted a syllogism that because the NHCA permits punitive damages, and that lawsuits under the NHCA survive a resident's death, punitive damages under the NHCA should survive the resident's death. The Supreme Court rejected this premise, noting that punitive damages only survive death when they are explicitly authorized by statute, and that the former explicit allowance for treble (punitive) damages had been stricken from the NHCA by the General Assembly, and only a non-explicit permission for punitive damages remains. The holding that common-law punitive damages die with the plaintiff is an ancient principle in Illinois (the Court's earliest reference was from 1929), was based on earlier interpretations of tort law as a whole of being punitive (and not compensatory). In essence, a deceased victim could no longer be appeased by his opponent's punishment. These "traditional notions of abatement" upon the plaintiff's death only give way to explicit, statutory permissions for punitive damages, which are not present in the NHCA. The Court further rejected the plaintiff's argument that punitive damages play an "integral role" in effectuating the NHCA's purposes, holding that nothing permits the Court to read such a finding into the law were no statutory permission exists.

      This case does not address whether a plaintiff may seek punitive damages in a case brought pursuant to the NHCA where the plaintiff is still living; but the Supreme Court's analysis and dicta suggest that that would be allowed.
     Please contact Anne Nelson at if you wish to obtain a copy of the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in Vincent v. Alden-Park Strathmoor, Inc.