Punitive Damages Claims Survive Decedent's Death Under the Public Utilities Act
The Court held that an action for punitive damages under the Public Utilities Act (220 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2006)) did survive the decedent's death.
In National Bank v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 73 Ill. 2d 160, 172, 383 N.E.2d 919, 23 Ill. Dec. 48 (1978), the court found critical to survival that the Public Utilities Act contained an explicit provision that, for willful violations thereof, "the court may in addition to the actual damages, award damages for the sake of example and by way of punishment." National Bank, 73 Ill. 2d at 173-74.
In light of this statutory language, the court concluded that the punitive damages claim survived because:
"Unquestionably, the Public Utilities Act intends to punish an offender and discourage similar offenses by allowing punitive damages to be awarded whenever an injury results from a defendant's wrongful and wilful statutory violation.
It would pervert the Act's intention if reprehensible conduct, so severe in consequence that resultant injury, culminating in death, was to be insulated from punitive liability under the very act designed to vigilantly promote safety by public utilities." National Bank, 73 Ill. 2d at 173-74.