Illinois Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn more about the laws and rules that could affect your personal injury lawsuit in the Prairie State.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Each state, including Illinois, has its own laws and rules for handling personal injury lawsuits. If you've been injured in an accident that wasn't your fault in Illinois, here are some of the laws that determine how much time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit, what happens when you're partly to blame for your injuries, whether Illinois has limits on how much compensation (called "damages") you can get, and more.

What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit is a type of civil (noncriminal) lawsuit. It allows an injured person to get financial compensation—damages—from the person, company, or government that caused them harm.

Many types of accidents and intentional misconduct can lead to personal injury lawsuits, including:

Not all disputes over injuries end up in court. You might be able to resolve your personal injury case through an insurance claim. If you're unable to settle your insurance claim or it gets denied, you can file a personal injury lawsuit.

Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Illinois?

In Illinois, you'll file your personal injury lawsuit in circuit court. Illinois has 25 circuits for 102 counties. You typically file in the county where:

  • the accident or incident took place, or
  • the person or company you're suing lives or does business.

Different rules apply when your lawsuit is against the government.

If you're suing for $10,000 or less, you can file in small claims court. When you ask for more than $10,000 and less than a limit set for a particular circuit (typically between $30,000 and $50,000), you're required to participate in court-annexed mandatory arbitration. Arbitration is less formal than court and tends to be faster and less expensive.

Illinois's court-annexed arbitration program is mandatory, but not binding. A panel of three arbitrators hears each case and recommends a decision. If either side disagrees with the panel's decision, the case is returned to circuit court.

(Learn more about Illinois's court system.)

How Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Illinois?

Unless you're suing in small claims court, you should hire a lawyer to prepare, file, and handle your case. In circuit court, you must follow complicated court rules that can be difficult to understand. An experienced attorney knows the rules and how they apply to your case. Here's a quick overview of the process.

You start a personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint against the person, company, or government that harmed you (the "defendant"). Your complaint should identify the parties, outline the basic facts of your case, and explain why the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries and losses.

You'll need to serve a copy of the complaint on the defendant, along with a summons. The defendant then has a chance to answer your complaint.

In Illinois, e-filing is required. Learn more about e-filing basics and whether you might qualify for an exemption from e-filing.

The Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice has approved statewide forms that Illinois courts must accept. Local circuit courts might have their own pre-approved forms. Standardized court forms are helpful guides when you're representing yourself, but aren't a substitute for an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Statutes of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits in Illinois

Illinois has deadlines—called "statutes of limitations"—for filing personal injury lawsuits in court. In most cases, you have two years from the date of your injury to get your lawsuit filed.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-202 (2024).)

What Happens If I Miss the Illinois Statute of Limitations Deadline?

The consequence for missing the filing deadline is severe. Unless a rare exception to the statute of limitations applies, a judge will almost certainly dismiss your case. You'll permanently lose your right to collect damages for your injuries and related losses.

Special Limitation Periods and Rules

Some types of personal injury lawsuits have different limitation periods or special rules that apply. Here are a few examples. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about how Illinois's statutes of limitations apply to your case.

Medical malpractice. Under 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-212 (2024), medical malpractice lawsuits typically must be filed within two years of when you first:

  • knew you were injured
  • reasonably should've discovered you were injured, or
  • received notice of your injury.

Illinois puts an outer limit, called a "statute of repose," on your time to discover a malpractice-related injury. You can't file a medical malpractice lawsuit more than four years after the date the malpractice occurred, no matter when you discovered or should've discovered your injuries.

Minors—those younger than 18 when they're injured by malpractice—usually have more time to sue.

(Learn more about Illinois's medical malpractice laws.)

Defamation. If someone is making false statements about you that are hurting your reputation, you better take legal action quickly. 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-201 (2024) allows you just one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Illinois.

(Learn more about the time limit to file an Illinois defamation case.)

Claims against the State of Illinois. Special rules apply when you want to make a personal injury claim against a state agency or state employee in Illinois. The Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive authority over these types of claims. (705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/8 (2024).)

You have one year from the date when the claim arose to file a lawsuit against the state or submit a Notice of Intent of Claim for Personal Injury to the Court of Claims. (705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/22-1 (2024).) If you've submitted notice, you have up to two years to file your lawsuit. (705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/22(h) (2024).)

Claims against local governments in Illinois. Personal injury claims against local governments and their employees in Illinois are heard in regular circuit courts, but you have to act quickly. You typically have one year from the date you were injured or the claim arose to get your lawsuit filed. Medical malpractice suits have to be filed within two years of the date a patient knew or should've known about their malpractice injury.

The state's four year medical malpractice statute of repose—discussed above—applies here, too. In other words, regardless of when (or if) you discover the government's medical error, you can't sue later than four years after the alleged malpractice.

(745 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 10/8-101 (2024).)

What Happens If You're Partly to Blame for Your Injuries?

In order to get damages in a personal injury case in Illinois, you have to prove that the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries. In most cases, this means proving that the defendant was negligent (careless).

Some defendants will point the finger back at you and argue that you were also negligent. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence." A version of it is available in Illinois. Here's how it works.

Illinois Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State

Illinois follows what's called a "modified comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, you can recover some damages when you share blame for an accident—as long as your percentage share of the total negligence isn't more than 50%. When you're more than 50% at fault, you get nothing.

If you're eligible to recover under this rule, your damages are reduced by your percentage share of the negligence.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/2-1116 (2024).)

How Does Illinois's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're in a car accident in Illinois. The other driver carelessly makes a left turn and hits you. You might have been able to avoid the accident, but you were glancing at your phone when it happened. You file a car accident lawsuit against the other driver.

The case goes all the way to trial. The jury finds the other driver 70% at fault for the accident for making an unsafe left turn. The jury finds you 30% at fault for distracted driving. If your damages total $10,000, you'll get $7,000 ($10,000 - $3,000) because your damages must be reduced by your percentage share of the fault (30%). But if the jury decides that you were 51% or more at fault for the accident, you can't collect any damages from the other driver.

Auto Insurance Laws in Illinois

Illinois has a fault-based insurance system. In "fault" states, the driver who causes a car accident has to pay for the other party's personal injury damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. At-fault drivers typically rely on liability insurance to pay for damages.

(Here's more about Illinois's mandatory car insurance laws.)

When Are Illinois Animal Owners Liable for Bite Injuries?

Under the Illinois Animal Control Act, animal owners are legally responsible whenever their animals injure someone unless the injured person:

  • provoked the attack
  • wasn't acting peacefully at the time of the attack, or
  • was trespassing.

(510 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/16 (2024).)

Damage Caps on Illinois Injury Claims

Many states put a limit, or "cap," on the amount of damages you can get in a personal injury lawsuit. Some states cap damages only in certain types of cases, like medical malpractice. Others cap only certain types of damages, like general damages. General damages are meant to compensate an injured person for intangible losses like physical and emotional pain and suffering.

In Illinois, damages are capped only in lawsuits against the State. Total damages are typically limited to $2 million when you sue the State of Illinois, except in cases involving state vehicles driven by a state employee. (705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/8 (2024).)

In 2005, Illinois's lawmakers tried to limit general damages in medical malpractice cases. But the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the cap, ruling that it violated the Illinois Constitution.

Get Help With Your Personal Injury Case

If you're thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois, talk to a lawyer who practices there. Personal injury law is complex and the procedural rules you have to follow in court are rigid. For example, if you miscalculate the statute of limitations, your lawsuit will be over before it gets started.

A personal injury lawyer can answer your questions and help you value your claim. When you're ready, here's how you can connect with a lawyer near you.

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