Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Appellate Court Allowing Added Count to Complaint

In October 2016, we reported about this important case on the Illinois law on relation-back and how it applies in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In the underlying case of Sheri Lawler, as administrator who sued on behalf of Jill Prusak, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Advocate Christ Hospital and some doctors for medical malpractice in 2011, it was claimed that the doctors and the hospitals misdiagnosed Prusak’s central nervous system lymphoma. She unfortunately died in November 2013 while the case was still pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill.

The ultimate question in this Supreme Court case was whether an amended complaint was time-barred under the four-year statute of repose; 735 ILCS 5/13-212. While the case was pending, Lawler’s daughter, Jill Prusak, brought the case on behalf of her mother’s estate and asked the court to add a wrongful-death claim to the lawsuit. The Circuit Court judge rejected the motion and denied the Lawler family to amend the complaint saying it was time-barred under the four-year statute of repose.

However, the Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District reversed that decision under the premise of the “amendments” or relation-back statute; 735 ILCS 5/2-616. The defendants appealed that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In the Illinois Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, it held that the plaintiff in the case could use the legal rule that softens time limits for amended pleadings if the facts stem from the same course of conduct that was originally alleged.

Justice Charles E. Freeman wrote the unanimous decision and found that the relation-backed doctrine, which allows new claims to be tied to the date of previously filed ones, prevailed over a four-year time-limit on medical-malpractice lawsuits written in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Section 2-616(b)). Significantly, Section 2-616(b) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure allows altered pleadings to be filed, regardless of time limits, as long as the original case was filed timely and both sets of filings grew out of the same transactions or occurrences.

Because Prusak died during the pendency of this case, the estate requested the trial judge to allow an additional count to be brought under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/1, after her death, which was related to the medical negligence of misdiagnosis even though the four-year statute of repose had already elapsed.

“The wrongful-death claim was based on the same alleged acts of medical malpractice as in the original complaint. In fact, the allegations of malpractice in the wrongful death claim are taken verbatim from the allegations of malpractice in the original complaint.” Justice Freeman continued, “Since plaintiff has satisfied the two requirements in the relation-back statute, it applies to her wrongful-death claim.”

Accordingly, the Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision allowing the Lawler/Prusak family to add the wrongful death count to their lawsuit. It seemed only logical that the Supreme Court would apply reason in this decision even though it was considered one of first impression.

Sheri Lawler v. The University of Chicago Medical Center, et al., No. 120745 (Illinois Supreme Court).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois and Chicago medical malpractice lawsuits, wrongful death cases, birth trauma injury cases, hospital negligence lawsuits and traumatic brain injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including New Lenox, Deerfield, Crete, Batavia, Steger, Hillside, Hoffman Estates, LaGrange Park, Long Grove, Matteson, Gurnee, Cary, Woodstock, Morton Grove, Western Springs, Chicago (Horner Park, Belmont Central, Beverly, Diversey Harbor, Pill Hill, Pilsen, South Loop, Jackson Park Highlands, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Loyola Park, Little Italy, Lithuanian Plaza, Ukrainian Village, East Garfield Park, Hyde Park), Round Lake Beach and St. Charles, Ill.

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