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Illinois Statute of Limitations Overview

Statutes of limitation are deadlines, set by law, for filing lawsuits. The deadlines vary from six months to a couple of years, sometimes even longer. They all, however, are strictly enforced. If you file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations runs out, the judge will most likely dismiss your case.

It's important to keep in mind that as with any law there are exceptions. While we try to give straightforward explanations of these rules, we cannot include every possible factor that may affect the deadline in your case. Always check with an attorney who practices in the area of law that applies to your issue. Don't rely solely on what a friend says or what you read online (yes, even this guide), because each situation is unique and the law is constantly changing.

If you want to know from a lawyer how long you have to sue or just have questions about Illinois law, please contact us at any time at (800) 517-1614.

Introduction

Generally, the time for filing a lawsuit – called a statute of limitations – starts counting down when the event leading to a lawsuit occurs, such as the date of an injury or death. Sometimes, the time limit is suspended. For example, in medical malpractice, if you don't realize you have an injury, the clock might not start running until you discover, or reasonably should have discovered, the injury.

Minors usually have more time to file a lawsuit, as do people who are legally disabled, such as someone in a coma or other situation beyond their control that interferes with their ability to sue. Minors and those who have a disability generally have a certain number of years from the day they turn 18 or the date their disability ends to file a lawsuit. In other words, the clock doesn't start ticking until they are legally able to sue.

Another exception is something called fraudulent concealment. If someone you otherwise would have sued hides the fact that you have a reason to file a lawsuit against them, then you generally have five years from the time you discovered that you had a legal claim.

The death of the person suing or the person being sued affects the statute of limitations, as well. If the person who was bringing the lawsuit dies before the deadline, their representative can still file up until the deadline, or until one year after the person's death, whichever is later. If the person being sued dies before the deadline (and the lawsuit is still allowed to continue against their representative), then the person suing has until the original deadline or six months after the defendant's death.

Sometimes, more than one statute of limitations seems to apply. Usually, the more relevant and specific rule is the correct one to follow.

Contracts

The general rule is that you have five years to sue on an unwritten (oral) contract or agreement and ten years on a written contract.

It's common to have an exception to the five- and ten- year rules when a contract dispute falls into another category. For example, if you're suing an architecture firm for improper design, the four-year statute of limitations for construction would probably apply instead; if the dispute was about the terms of the contract, or payment, the ten-year deadline for contract disputes would likely apply.

Employment

Unpaid wages

If you have a claim for unpaid wages because you were not paid minimum wage, or if you're owed overtime, you have three years to try and collect those wages.

Whether you quit, get fired or resign, you are owed your final compensation on the next regularly scheduled payday. If you are not paid, or if you are underpaid, you have five years to file a lawsuit for unpaid wages and vacation time. If you are going through the Illinois Department of Labor to collect unpaid wages, you have one year to file.

Discrimination

Claims for employment discrimination must be filed within either 180 days or 300 days, depending on the rules of the government agency where you're filing the complaint.

Retaliatory discharge

If you were fired because you asserted a protected right (like filing a workers' compensation claim) or for refusing to do something illegal, you may have a claim for retaliatory discharge. The statute of limitations on these claims is five years.

Wrongful termination

Many employees are at-will and can be fired for any legal reason at any time. If you have a union or employment contract, there may be limits on why or when you can be fired. The statute of limitations on wrongful termination claims is ten years for written contracts and five years for oral contracts or agreements.

Family law

Child support

If you have a court order for child support, then there is no deadline for collecting past due payments.

Paternity

A petition to establish or contest paternity must be brought by the parent or child (whoever is the proper person to make the claim) within two years of when the child turns 18. A man who signs a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity form has 60 days to rescind, or cancel, the document.

Prenuptial agreements

A lawsuit coming out of a premarital agreement must be brought within ten years of entering into the agreement. However, the clock on this deadline stops running during the marriage.

Promise to marry

A person can sue for the breach of a promise to marry. The deadline is one year from when the promise or agreement to marry was broken.

Legal malpractice

A claim for legal malpractice can be filed up until two years from the date the malpractice occurred. Or, if the malpractice wasn't discovered until later, the deadline is two years from when the client discovered or reasonably should have discovered the malpractice. Although the deadline can be extended under this exception, the outside limit is six years from the date of malpractice. If injury doesn't occur until death of client (involving a will, for example), the deadline is two years from the date of death, although if a will is admitted to probate, the time may be shorter. The general exceptions for minors and those who are disabled apply here, as well.

Medical Malpractice

A lawsuit for medical malpractice must be brought within two years of the date the malpractice occurred. If the injury was not discovered at the time the malpractice occurred, the person has two years from when they knew or should have known of that injury. In any case, the outside limit is four years from the date the injury was caused.

There are some additional exceptions for medical malpractice. If the person was under 18 when injury occurred, they have eight years from the date the injury was caused, but no lawsuit can be brought later than their 22nd birthday.

The disability exception applies here which we often see in cases of someone in a coma and arguably in catastrophic brain injury situations.

If you are suing a public entity like Cook County Hospital, UIC, etc., the time limit to sue is two years if the lawsuit involves “patient care” and usually just one year otherwise.

Personal injury

The general rule is that a lawsuit for personal injury must be filed within two years of the date of the injury or death. Personal injury lawsuits are a broad category, so exceptions are common. If a more specific deadline applies, it may trump the general two-year rule. Here are some specifics:

Suing a government entity

For lawsuits against the state, a person must give notice within one year, and the deadline for filing the lawsuit is two years. There is a shorter deadline – one year – for wrongful death claims. For claims against local public entities, such as a school, police department or public transportation authority, a person has only one year to file a lawsuit, and they may have to give notice within just six months of the injury. The statute of limitations may be longer if case involves medical malpractice, such as a lawsuit against a county hospital.

Dram Shop Act

If a person wants to sue an establishment, such as a bar, for causing the intoxication of the person who injured them, they have one year to do so.

Civil Rights

Civil rights lawsuits claiming discrimination or personal injury (also known as Section 1981 or Section 1983 claims) must be brought within two years.

Construction

Construction lawsuits are claims for improper design, planning, management or supervision of a construction project. A construction lawsuit must be brought within four years of the time when the person suing knew or reasonably should have known about the act or omission that caused the problem. The outside limit is ten years, meaning that even if you discover a problem years after the fact, you don't get more than ten years to file a lawsuit. Exceptions include lawsuits against the state or local government, which may shorten the deadline to a year or two, and lawsuits for wrongful death, which have a deadline of two years. If the dispute is about a contract, the statutes of limitation for contracts (five years for oral contracts, ten years for written contracts) may apply instead.

Schools

The one-year statute of limitations for suing local public entities applies to school districts. However, you have to provide notice to the school within six months or a lawsuit can be barred. Minors have until one year after their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit against a school district, and a disabled person has one year from time when the disability ends.

Defamation

Defamation includes both libel and slander. Libel is injury through written words and slander is injury through spoken words. There is a one-year statute of limitations for both.

Products liability

When injury, property damage or death is caused by a product that is defective in some way, the deadline for filing suit is two years from the date of injury. If the injury wasn't discovered until later, then it's two years from when it was actually discovered, or should have been discovered. The outside deadline is eight years. However, if you have a warranty that extends beyond this time, then you may still have a claim. The exception for minors and those under legal disability applies here, as well.

Property damage

If someone damages your property, you generally have five years from the date of the damage to file a lawsuit.

Sexual abuse

As of 2011, the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse is 20 years after the victim turns 18. In other words, a lawsuit must be filed by the time the abused person turns 38. In the case of repressed memories, or when the abuse is remembered but the victim didn't know that the abuse caused their injury, the deadline is 20 years from the time the person knew or reasonably should have known that the abuse occurred and that it caused the injury. For earlier cases, the statute of limitations may be only 10 years from when the victim turns 18, or five years from discovering the abuse and injury. Prior to 2003, the deadlines were even shorter.

Wills and estates

Creditor claims

Claims against an estate must be made within two years. However, when an estate goes through the probate process, a notice to creditors is published. This shortens the deadline for creditor claims to six months from the publication date.

Contesting a will

The statute of limitations for contesting a will is six months from when the will is admitted to probate. A spouse has seven months to renounce the will when making a claim for the spousal share set by law.

Fraud

In cases of fraud, the time limit ranges from six months to two years.

Workers' compensation

Injured workers file claims with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, rather than filing a lawsuit in court. An injured worker must notify their employer of an injury within 45 days, but they have to file a claim within three years of the accident or two years from the last payment of compensation related to the claim, whichever is later.

There is an exception for claims of exposure to hazardous radiation or asbestos. These workers have 25 years from the date of last employment to file a claim. However, if the injury resulted in death, the regular three-year, or two-year, limit applies.

Wrongful death

A lawsuit for wrongful death must be filed by the deceased's personal representative within two years of the date of death, shorter if against a public entity.

Once again, these are general explanations of the law and there are numerous exceptions that we haven't highlighted. It is also possible that this page may have errors. So if you are thinking about a lawsuit or if you just have questions, you should contact us before making any firm conclusions.