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Survival Actions and Wrongful Death Claims: What’s the Difference?

Understanding legal terms can be challenging, especially when dealing with the emotional aftermath of losing a loved one.

Two terms often encountered in such circumstances are “Survival Actions” and “Wrongful Death Claims.” These legal concepts may seem similar, but they have distinct differences.

This article aims to clarify these differences, focusing on New Jersey and Illinois laws, and provide guidance on navigating these legal processes.

Survival Actions and Wrongful Death Claims: What's the Difference?

Key Factors for a Successful Wrongful Death Claim

The National Safety Council reports that in 2020, over 38,000 people died in car crashes in the U.S., many leading to wrongful death claims. When filing a wrongful death claim, understanding the key elements is essential for success:

  1. Proof of Negligence: Show that someone’s carelessness caused the death. Think of it like proving that a driver ran a red light on Main Street, leading to a fatal accident.
  2. Direct Link to the Death: Connect the negligence to the death. It’s like tracing how the red-light running directly resulted in the crash.
  3. Financial Impact: Demonstrate the financial loss the family faces due to the death. This could include medical bills, funeral costs, or lost income – similar to counting all the expenses after a car is totaled.
  4. Legal Standing: The person filing must be legally allowed to do so, like a family member.

See also: How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works in New Jersey

Statute of Limitation for Survival Actions in New Jersey

In New Jersey, the Statute of Limitations for Survival Actions is an important legal concept that determines the time limit within which a person can file a lawsuit after the death of another person due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions.

Here are some key points to understand about the Statute of Limitations for Survival Actions in New Jersey:

Time Limit

In New Jersey, you generally have two years from the date of the person’s death to file a survival action lawsuit. This time frame is set by the law and is designed to ensure that legal claims are brought promptly.


There may be exceptions to the two-year rule, such as in cases of medical malpractice or fraud. It’s essential to consult with a legal professional to understand if any exceptions apply to your specific case. Similarly, exceptions may apply in cases of murder or manslaughter.

Filing a Survival Action Claim in New Jersey

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions in New Jersey, you may have the right to file a Survival Action Claim to seek justice and compensation. Here’s what you need to know in simple terms:

  1. Eligibility: Surviving family members, like spouses, children, and parents, can file a Survival Action Claim. It’s important to consult with a legal professional to confirm your eligibility.
  2. Compensation: If your claim is successful, you may receive compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages suffered by your loved one before their passing.
  3. Legal Help: To navigate this process, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can guide you and ensure your rights are protected.

Illinois Survival Action vs. Wrongful Death: Key Differences

New Jersey Wrongful Death Law

Under the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 to 2A:31-6), wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the date of death. The Act defines who can sue and what damages are recoverable.

Illinois Law

The Illinois Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/) and the Survival Act (755 ILCS 5/27-6) set the legal framework for wrongful death and survival actions in Illinois, including time limits and eligible claimants.

When facing the loss of a loved one in Illinois due to someone else’s actions, it’s important to understand the differences between Survival Action and Wrongful Death claims.

Survival Action

  1. Time Limit: You generally have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a Survival Action claim in Illinois, much like adhering to speed limits on local roads.
  2. Purpose: A Survival Action seeks compensation for damages that the deceased person suffered before their death. This includes medical bills and pain and suffering.
  3. Beneficiary: The compensation goes to the deceased person’s estate and may benefit their heirs or creditors.

Wrongful Death

  1. Time Limit: Wrongful Death claims also have a two-year filing deadline in Illinois, similar to the Survival Action.
  2. Purpose: Wrongful Death claims aim to provide compensation to the deceased person’s surviving family members for their losses, such as loss of support and companionship.
  3. Beneficiary: The compensation goes directly to the surviving family members.


Consider the case of “Emily,” who lost her husband in a car crash in New Jersey. The other driver was at fault and uninsured. Emily filed a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for loss of financial support and companionship.

Simultaneously, her attorney filed a survival action to recover damages for the pain and suffering her husband experienced before he passed away. These legal actions helped Emily address the financial and emotional impact of her loss.

Seeking Legal Help in New Jersey for Wrongful Death

When faced with the tragic loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions in New Jersey, seeking legal assistance is crucial.

Here’s a straightforward guide to help you understand the process:

  1. Time Sensitivity: In New Jersey, you typically have a limited time, often two years from the date of your loved one’s death, to pursue a wrongful death claim. Think of it like obeying local road speed limits – timing matters.
  2. Identifying Legal Experts: Seek out experienced wrongful death attorneys in New Jersey who specialize in handling such cases. They possess the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the legal complexities.
  3. Initial Consultation: Schedule a consultation with a lawyer to discuss your case. Many law firms offer free initial consultations, allowing you to assess the attorney’s expertise and suitability for your needs.
  4. Legal Costs: Discuss the attorney’s fee structure and payment options during the consultation. Some lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you win your case.
  5. Legal Strategy: Your attorney will work with you to develop a legal strategy, gather evidence, and represent your interests in court.


Time-Consuming Elements in a New Jersey Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Time-consuming elements in a New Jersey wrongful death lawsuit include gathering extensive evidence and undergoing the lengthy legal discovery process, which involves exchanging information and documents with the opposing party. 

Handling Survival Actions Without Lawyers in New Jersey

Handling Survival Actions without lawyers in New Jersey can be challenging and risky, as the legal process is complex and requires expertise in navigating the intricacies of the law. It is advisable to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure your rights and interests are protected.


Understanding and differentiating between survival actions and wrongful death claims is crucial when faced with the loss of a loved one.

Each state has its laws and requirements, making it essential to seek specialized legal advice.

In New Jersey and Illinois, these legal actions provide means for families to seek justice and compensation, though they address different aspects of loss.

Navigating these legal waters can be challenging, but with the right guidance and understanding, families can achieve a sense of closure and financial stability.

Consulting with a qualified attorney is always the best course of action to ensure your rights are fully protected.

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