Tolling the Statute of Limitations for the Legally Disabled
Alex Beehler recently wrote an article regarding the statute of limitations as it applies to the legally disabled. Alex is an associate who uses his knowledge of the Illinois court system and refined writing skills to passionately advocate for his clients.
In Zayed v. Clark Manor Convalescent Center, Inc., the Illinois Appellate Court First District held that the statute of limitations is tolled when a legally disabled individual suffers personal injury until their death. 2019 IL App (1st) 181552.
Facts of Case
Said Mohammad Zayed was 62 years old when he became a resident of the Clark Manor Convalescent Center—a nursing home in northern Chicago. He fell and suffered a hip fracture in March of 2014. He died approximately 18 months later.
His personal representative filed a lawsuit 3 years and 4 months after Said’s fracture; 20 months after his death. The complaint alleged causes of action under both the Wrongful Death and Survival Act. It alleged that Said’s fall caused or contributed to cause his death. It also alleged that Said was under a legal disability prior to his admission to the nursing home—that he was incapable of managing his person or property, and that he could not comprehend his legal rights.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss and argued that the Zayed lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations because it was filed more than two years after the fall, and more than one year after Said’s death. The plaintiff’s attorneys argued to the trial court that the limitations period was extended because Said suffered from dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease when he became a resident at Clark Manor. They did not include these specific facts in the complaint.
Illinois law has two statutes of limitations that are on point when situations such as these arise: (1) § 13-211. Minors and persons under a legal disability; and (2) § 13-209. Death of a party.
Section 13-209 states that:
(a) If a person entitled to bring an action dies before the expiration of the time limited for the commencement thereof, and the cause of action survives:
(1) an action may be commenced by his or her representative before the expiration of that time, or within one year from his or her death whichever date is the later.
735 ILCS 5/13-209(a)(1) (West 2018).
Section 13-211 states that:
(a) If the person entitled to bring an action . . . at the time the cause of action accrued, is under the age of 18 years or is under a legal disability, then he or she may bring the action within 2 years after the person attains the age of 18 years, or the disability is removed.
735 ILCS 5/13-211(a) (West 2018).
The trial court sided with the defendant’s argument. It concluded that the statute of limitations barred the lawsuit because the limitations period began to run when Said fell in 2014.
The appellate court reversed. It held that Section 13-211 preserves the full two-year statute of limitations during a disabled person’s lifetime, and that Section 13-209 extends that period for two years after a disabled person’s death.
In support of this construction, it relied on other state appellate court opinions from New York, Wisconsin, and West Virginia that each held that the statute of limitations period is tolled during a disabled individual’s life. It explained that this rationale is supported by public policy, because the statutes at issue here are intended to extend the limitations period for individuals who are legally disabled. The appellate court held that the Zayed complaint was timely filed, because the statute of limitations was tolled from the time of Said’s fall until his death. Because Said’s death ended his legal disability, Section 13-211 provided a two-year period for the complaint to be filed on his behalf. It reversed the trial court’s granting of the motion to dismiss and remanded for further proceedings.
When an individual who is legally disabled suffers an injury, that individual is not capable of recognizing that a cause of action accrues. Thus, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until their legal disability is removed. Their legal disability is extinguished with their death. Under those circumstances, a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations will be unsuccessful if the lawsuit is filed within two years from a disabled person’s death.