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Giles v. Parks

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District

February 5, 2018

ROSCOE GILES, as Special Representative and Special Administrator of the Estate of Morris Giles, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROBERT PARKS, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division No. 14 L 13240 Honorable Janet Adams Brosnahan, Judge Presiding

          JUSTICE SIMON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pierce and Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SIMON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 This case proves to be yet another reminder to attorneys and litigants about the importance of complying with statutes of limitations and that the proper application of a limitations period may produce results that seem harsh or undesirable. Plaintiff, whose brother was killed, filed his case just a single day after the statute of limitations had run. On appeal, plaintiff attempts to use the decedent's legal disability as an excuse for his own untimely filing. The Illinois Code of Civil Procedure does not permit the statutes to be used in the manner that plaintiff advocates and, accordingly, we affirm the denial of plaintiff's petition for relief from the judgment.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On December 22, 2012, plaintiff's decedent, Morris Giles, was walking through a crosswalk when he was struck by defendant's tow truck. Giles was unresponsive and unconscious from the time of the collision until he died the next day at the hospital, on December 23, 2012.

         ¶ 4 Giles's brother, plaintiff Roscoe Giles, retained an attorney to sue defendant. Exactly two years after Giles died and two years and a day after the collision, this case was filed in Cook County circuit court. The complaint had a single claim that plaintiff characterizes as a survival claim, and the statute of limitations for the asserted cause of action is two years.

         ¶ 5 Before the limitations issue was litigated or before there was any other meaningful activity in the case, the case was dismissed for want of prosecution. Plaintiff eventually hired new counsel and filed a petition for relief from the judgment under section 2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (see 735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2012)). That petition was filed on March 15, 2016.

         ¶ 6 In his petition for relief from the judgment, plaintiff presented evidence that his original attorney had a minor stroke in October 2015 and was no longer authorized to practice law by the time the petition was presented to the court. After some back and forth between the parties, it became apparent that there was a real issue as to whether plaintiff acted with diligence in prosecuting his original claim, with the ultimate question being whether the claim was barred by the statute of limitations at the time it was filed.

         ¶ 7 Defendant took the position that the case was filed more than two years after the cause of action accrued. Plaintiff took the position that the claim was timely because Giles was under a legal disability from the time he was struck until he died the next day, so the statute of limitations was tolled for a day and the claim was, therefore, timely. Plaintiff also sought leave to file a claim under the wrongful death statute where the statute of limitations accrues at the time of the death rather than at the time of the injury. Plaintiff argued that his newly asserted wrongful death claim should be considered to "relate back" to the date the complaint was filed because the claim arises from the same transaction or occurrence as his original claim.

         ¶ 8 The trial court held a hearing but had the parties focus on addressing the propriety of plaintiff's arguments on the legal disability issue and on the applicability of the relation back doctrine. The trial court issued a detailed and well-reasoned written order explaining its holding that (1) any legal disability did not toll the statute of limitations, so the originally filed claim was time barred, and (2) the new claim plaintiff wanted to assert could not relate back to an untimely filed original pleading.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 To begin, plaintiff essentially concedes that without the aid of a separate justifying statute, the cause of action he asserts in his complaint is barred by the two-year statute of limitations (735 ILCS 5/13-202 (West 2012)). Plaintiff admits that Giles was injured traumatically on December 22, 2012, and that the case was not filed until December 23, 2014.

         ¶ 11 Actions for damages for an injury to the person shall be commenced within two years of when the cause of action accrues. Id. Where the plaintiff's injury is caused by a " 'sudden traumatic event, ' " the cause of action accrues immediately, and the statute of limitations begins to run on the day ...


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