What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Illinois?

The Illinois personal injury statute of limitations sets a strict time limit on your right to ask a court for compensation for your losses stemming from an accident.

Whether you have a legal claim arising from a car accident, a slip and fall, or some other incident where someone else’s careless (or intentional) conduct caused you harm, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois's civil courts. If so, it's critical to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of cases. In this article, we'll cover the details on the filing deadline set by this Illinois law, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the time limit might be extended.

Two Years is the Standard Time Limit for Illinois Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Illinois personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at 735 Illinois Compiled Statutes section 5/13-202, which says that "Actions for damages for an injury to the person...shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of action accrued."

In plain English, that means after another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury, and you want to ask a court for a civil remedy for your losses, you have two years to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" starts on the date of the underlying accident or incident that caused the injuries; that's the date on which the "cause of action" (the claim) is said to "accrue," in the eyes of the law.

So, this two-year deadline applies to almost all conceivable types of personal injury lawsuits, whether governed by the liability principle of "negligence" or intentional tort.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than two years have passed since the underlying accident, but you try to file your personal injury lawsuit anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly file a "motion to dismiss" and point this fact out to the court. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (more details on these exceptions later), the court will summarily dismiss your case. Once that happens, you’ve lost your right to ask a court to award you damages for your injuries, no matter how significant they might be, and no matter how obvious the defendant’s liability.

It's important to note that the Illinois personal injury statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your injury case to court via a formal lawsuit. The filing deadline set by this law is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. If the other side knows that the two-year deadline has passed, you'll have lost all your leverage, and "I'll see you in court" becomes the very definition of an empty threat.

Exceptions to the Illinois Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Illinois has identified a variety of different factual scenarios that might serve to delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the two-year filing deadline set by section 5/13-202. Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard timeline:

  • if the injured person had been under a legal disability (i.e. was subject to a temporary or permanent mental illness) at the time of the underlying accident, he or she will have two years to file the lawsuit once the disability is removed (735 ILCS 5/13-211)
  • if the injured person comes under a legal disability sometime after the accident, and before a personal injury lawsuit can be filed, that will also extend the two-year deadline
  • if the injured person was under the age of 18 at the time of the underlying accident, the two-year "clock" does not start to run until he or she turns 18 (735 ILCS 5/13-211), and
  • if the person who allegedly caused the injury (the defendant) left the state of Illinois at some point after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit could be filed, the period of absence likely won't be counted as part of the two years (735 ILCS 5/13-208).

If you have questions about the Illinois statute of limitations and how it applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Illinois personal injury attorney.

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