SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
546 N.E.2d 568, 131 Ill. 2d 403, 137 Ill. Dec. 623 1989.IL.1683
Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Dean M. Trafelet, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE WARD took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CLARK
At issue in this case is whether the two-year filing provision of the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 70, par. 1 et seq.) must be triggered by the "discovery rule" at such time that the cause of action may accrue prior to the death of an individual when a potential plaintiff seeking relief under the Act knows or reasonably should know of a wrongfully caused injury which may lead to death. We answer that question in the negative.
Appellee, Mary Wyness, initiated this action individually and as special administrator of the estate of her deceased husband, James Wyness, in the circuit court of Cook County, against various asbestos manufacturers and distributors. The one-count complaint alleged James Wyness' death was attributable to his prolonged exposure to asbestos-containing products during the course of his employment, causing asbestos-related lung cancer. Armstrong World Industries, Inc., Celotex Corporation, Keene Corporation, Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc., Pittsburgh-Corning Corporation and Combustion Engineering, Inc. (hereinafter appellants), filed a motion for summary judgment based on the contention that the limitations period for filing the action had run. The trial court denied the motion in part and granted the motion in part. Mary Wyness appealed and the appellate court reversed in part and affirmed in part, remanding the cause to the trial court. (171 Ill. App. 3d 676, 680.) The defendants below, various asbestos manufacturers and distributors, appealed to this court. We granted review pursuant to our Rule 315(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). For the reasons stated below, we affirm.
James J. Wyness, appellee's decedent, died on August 10, 1978, at the age of 52. From 1947 to 1978 he worked with various asbestos products as an insulator. Two months prior to James Wyness' death, his doctor confirmed that lung cancer discovered just the month before was asbestos related. Thus, Wyness' illness and its probable cause were known to both James and Mary Wyness since the beginning of June 1978. On August 8, 1980, Mary Wyness filed a wrongful death action in her own behalf and as administrator of her husband's estate. The suit was filed less than two years following the death of James Wyness.
Appellants moved for summary judgment in the trial court, asserting the running of the statute of limitations for personal injury actions (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 13-202) based on the deposition of Mary Wyness, wherein she indicated that she became aware of the causation of her husband's illness in June 1978. Appellants argued that a wrongful death action is a derivative of the personal injury action. The trial court granted partial summary judgment, ruling that Mary Wyness could not recover individually because the statute of limitations had run, since Mary learned of James' injury in June 1978; however, the trial court denied the appellants' motion for summary judgment against the administrator of the estate for the benefit of the Wyness children.
The appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part (171 Ill. App. 3d at 680), holding that the limitation period in the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 70, par. 1 et seq.) is a two-year limitation period beginning on the date of death. The appellate court also held that the personal injury statute of limitations (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 13-202) does not apply to wrongful death claims except to the extent that it determines the viability of the decedent's claim at the time of death. (171 Ill. App. 3d at 678-79.) We agree.
Section 1 of the Wrongful Death Act provides:
"Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, then and in every such case the person who or company or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured . . .." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 70, par. 1.)
Section 2 of the Act further provides:
"Every such action shall be brought by and in the names of the personal representatives of such deceased person, and, except as otherwise hereinafter provided, the amount recovered in every such action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin of such deceased person and in every such action the jury may give such damages as they shall deem a fair and just compensation with reference to the ...