Illinois Appellate Court Clarifies Discovery Rule – Mitsias v. I-Flow

In Illinois, the statute of limitations governing civil cases, e.g. medical malpractice, product liability, and personal injury cases, is typically two years. However, the Illinois Appellate Court recently revisited exactly when that two-year statute begins in its analysis of the “discovery rule” as it relates to Mitsias v. I-Flow, 2011 Ill.App. (1st) 101126 (Sept. 23, 2011).

The discovery rule refers to the general rule that the statute begins when a plaintiff knew or should have know about the cause for his injury. The injury in question in Mitsias deals with both a medical malpractice claim and a later product liability lawsuit involving the plaintiff’s shoulder surgery. In 2001, Mitsias underwent a shoulder surgery during which a “pain pump” was implanted. However, Mitsias later developed glenohumeral chondrolysis, or destruction of cartilage in her shoulder and joint.

In 2003, Mitsias filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon who implanted the pain pump. However, during the course of the medical malpractice proceedings, Mitsias discovered that the source of her shoulder injury might not be a simple case of medical malpractice, but also have a product liability component. Consequently, Mitsias filed a second complaint against the manufacturers of the pain pump alleging that its defects caused her shoulder injury.

The product defect complaint, filed in 2009, was the subject of the appellate court’s review. The medical device manufacturers, I-Flow, Stryker Corp. and Stryker Sales, alleged that Mitsias did not file the medical device liability claim within the required statute of limitations and was therefore barred from being a lawsuit against them. However, the appellate court ruled otherwise.

While Mitsias’s surgery was in 2001, it was not until 2007 that she learned of the potential product defect. The possible medical device defect came to light during Mitsias’s medical expert’s second deposition for the medical malpractice claim. Her expert, Dr. Anthony Romeo, testified that he had recently read a medical journal article linking the pain pumps to Mitsias’s exact injury, glenohumeral chondrolysis. Mitsias then filed her product liability claim in 2009, within two years of discovering the potential product liability component of her injury.

Yet the trial judge dismissed Mitsias’s product liability lawsuit on the basis that it was not filed within the required statute of limitations as set out in Section 13-213(d) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. However, the appellate court reversed this decision based on its impression that

where a plaintiff knows or should reasonably know that her injury was caused by one source, but remains unaware of another source that could not be discovered through the exercise of diligent inquiry, the statute of limitations does not begin to run with regard to that second source until such time as that second source would become discoverable through diligent inquiry.

In its review of relevant case law, the appellate court relied on the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in Knox College v. Celotex, 88 Ill.2d 407 (1982). The court held that the statutory period does not necessarily start when the injured person is first aware of his injury, but rather when he should reasonably be aware that the injury was wrongfully caused. Nolan v. Johns-Manville, 85 Ill.2d 161 (1981), further elaborates on Knox’s intention, stating that it ensures that “an injured person is not held to a standard of knowing the inherently unknowable, yet once it reasonably appears that an injury was wrongfully caused, the party may not slumber on his rights.”

In applying this precedent to Mitsias, the court found that while the plaintiff did discover the potential medical malpractice cause of her injury within two years of it occurring, she did not discover the potential product liability cause until much later. Given the facts, even though the product liability lawsuit was filed eight years after the injury occurred, it was still within the required statute of limitations. The second lawsuit is not barred because Mitsias filed the product liability lawsuit within two years of when she should have reasonably known about the potential medical device defect.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit and Illinois product defect cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Glendale Heights, Naperville, Park Ridge, Oak Park, Beecher, and Des Plaines.

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