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10/02/97 BRIAN BRUSO v. ALEXIAN BROTHERS HOSPITAL

October 2, 1997

BRIAN BRUSO, A MINOR BY HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, ELAINE BRUSO, ET AL., APPELLEES,
v.
ALEXIAN BROTHERS HOSPITAL ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The Honorable Justice Bilandic delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bilandic

The Honorable Justice BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

The sole issue in this appeal is whether a medical malpractice plaintiff who suffers from the dual legal disabilities of minority and mental incompetency is subject to the eight-year repose period for minors contained in the medical malpractice statute of limitations or is entitled to application of the tolling provision for legal disabilities other than minority contained in that statute (735 ILCS 5/13-212(b), (c) (West 1994)).

FACTS

Plaintiffs, Brian Bruso, a minor, by his mother and next friend, Elaine Bruso, and Elaine Bruso and Arthur Bruso, individually, instituted this medical malpractice action against defendants, Alexian Brothers Hospital, Dr. William Matviuw, Dr. Peter D. Scalzitti, Dr. Howard Singer, and Dr. Jerry C. Levin, on December 30, 1992, in the circuit court of Cook County. Plaintiffs sought damages for injuries allegedly suffered by Brian Bruso at the time of his birth on July 19, 1976. Plaintiffs also alleged that Brian, "on or about July 19, 1976, became and continues to be disabled, totally without understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions regarding his person and totally unable to manage his estate or financial affairs."

Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' action on the ground that the suit, filed more than 16 years after the alleged malpractice occurred, was barred by the eight-year statute of repose contained in section 13-212(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/13-212(b) (West 1994)). Plaintiffs responded that the action was not time-barred because subsection (c) of section 13-212 applied to the action. Section 13-212(c) tolls the limitations period if the person entitled to bring the action is "under a legal disability other than being under the age of 18 years." 735 ILCS 5/13-212(c) (West 1994).

The trial court granted defendants' motions to dismiss, finding that plaintiffs' claims were time-barred under section 13-212(b). Plaintiffs appealed to the appellate court, which reversed the dismissal. The appellate court held that section 13-212(c) tolled the running of the limitations period on plaintiffs' medical malpractice action. No. 1-94-3210 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We accepted defendants' petitions for leave to appeal. 155 Ill. 2d R. 315. We now affirm the appellate court.

ANALYSIS

We are called upon to interpret the medical malpractice statute of limitations contained in section 13-212 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 13-212 provides, in its entirety, as follows:

"Physician or hospital. (a) Except as provided in Section 13-215 of this Act [fraudulent concealment], no action for damages for injury or death against any physician, dentist, registered nurse or hospital duly licensed under the laws of this State, whether based upon tort, or breach of contract, or otherwise, arising out of patient care shall be brought more than 2 years after the date on which the claimant knew, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have known, or received notice in writing of the existence of the injury or death for which damages are sought in the action, whichever of such date occurs first, but in no event shall such action be brought more than 4 years after the date on which occurred the act or omission or occurrence alleged in such action to have been the cause of such injury or death.

(b) Except as provided in Section 13-215 of this Act, no action for damages for injury or death against any physician, dentist, registered nurse or hospital duly licensed under the laws of this State, whether based upon tort, or breach of contract, or otherwise, arising out of patient care shall be brought more than 8 years after the date on which occurred the act or omission or occurrence alleged in such action to have been the cause of such injury or death where the person entitled to bring the action was, at the time the cause of action accrued, under the age of 18 years; provided, however, that in no event may the cause of action be brought after the person's 22nd birthday. If the person was under the age of 18 years when the cause of action accrued and, as a result of this amendatory Act of 1987, the action is either barred or there remains less than 3 years to bring such action, then he or she may bring the action within 3 years of July 20, 1987.

(c) If the person entitled to bring an action described in this Section is, at the time the cause of action accrued, under a legal disability other than being under the age of 18 years, then the period of limitations does not begin to run until the disability is removed." (Emphasis added.) 735 ILCS 5/13-212 (West 1994)).

The principles we apply in construing a statute are well settled. The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Envirite Corp. v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 158 Ill. 2d 210, 216, 198 Ill. Dec. 424, 632 N.E.2d 1035 (1994); Antunes v. Sookhakitch, 146 Ill. 2d 477, 484, 167 Ill. Dec. 981, 588 N.E.2d 1111 (1992). The best evidence of the legislature's intent is the language of the statute itself. Bonaguro v. County Officers Electoral Board, 158 Ill. 2d 391, 397, 199 Ill. Dec. 659, 634 N.E.2d 712 (1994). The court must evaluate the language of the statute as a whole, considering each part or section in connection with every other part or section. Bonaguro, 158 Ill. 2d at 397; Antunes, 146 Ill. 2d at 484. Where the legislature's intent can be ascertained from the plain language of the statute, that intent must prevail and will be given effect without resort to other aids for construction. DiFoggio v. Retirement Board of the County Employees Annuity & Benefit Fund, 156 Ill. 2d 377, 382, 189 Ill. Dec. 753, 620 N.E.2d 1070 (1993). On appeal, an issue of statutory construction is subject to de novo review. Lucas v. Lakin, 175 Ill. 2d 166, 171, 221 Ill. Dec. 834, 676 N.E.2d 637 (1997).

Plaintiffs contend that section 13-212(c) applies to toll the limitations period on Brian's medical malpractice action because the complaint alleges that Brian "is under a legal disability other than being under the age of 18 years," namely, mental incompetency. Defendants, on the other hand, argue that the eight-year repose period in section 13-212(b) is applicable to the claims of all minors, including those who suffer from an ...


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