Appeals Court: Statute of Limitations Still Paused for Disabled Person’s Lawsuit

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An Illinois appellate panel has ruled a nursing home cannot use a two-year statute of limitations to escape a medical negligence claim from the guardian of a disabled person, even though the guardian had already filed suit against a hospital nearly three years earlier over those same injuries suffered by the disabled person while in care.

The Jan. 3 decision was penned by Justice Tom Lytton, with concurrence from Justices Eugene Daugherity and Daniel Schmidt, of Illinois Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa. The ruling favored Linda Gavlin in her action, in Will County Circuit Court, against Lakewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in southwest suburban Plainfield. 

Gavlin serves as administrator of the estate of Jennifer Andrules.

On May 16, 2014, Andrules was at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital for a medical evaluation, when she fell and broke her right leg, according to court papers. She underwent surgery and was admitted six days later to Lakewood, where the following June 3 she fell again, breaking the same leg and necessitating another surgery. Andrules was then designated as disabled, the suit said.

On May 2, 2016 in Will County Circuit Court, the then administrator of Andrules’ estate, Northern Trust, sued Adventist, alleging medical negligence. A little less than three years later, in February 2019, the new administrator, Gavlin, lodged an amended suit that added Lakewood, accusing the nursing home of medical negligence.

Lakewood argued Gavlin included Lakewood in the suit after the two-year statute of limitations expired, noting the original lawsuit had been filed nearly three years earlier. Will County Judge Raymond Rossi rejected Lakewood’s argument, prompting Lakewood to ask the appeals panel to answer whether the filing of a suit by a disabled person’s representative continues to pause the statute of limitations. 

Such a pause, or tolling, is allowed by the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure in cases of disabled, incompetent or minor persons who have negligence claims, and is intended to protect their right to sue. A disabled person cannot participate in a suit on their own behalf, so tolling is in place until the disability is gone, after which the statute of limitations then begins ticking, court papers said.

Lakewood contended that when Adventist was sued in 2014, within the statute of limitations, Andrules’ rights were safeguarded and tolling no longer applied.

Justice Lytton disagreed, saying that tolling only ends when the disabled person dies or their disability is removed.

Lytton pointed out administrators, conservators, executors and guardians do not hold title to their wards’ estates, but only care for the estates. 

“Appointment of a guardian for a disabled individual or a minor does not terminate the tolling statute and begin the running of the applicable statute of limitations. This is because the cause of action is owned by the minor or disabled person, not the guardian. As the owners of the cause of action, minors and disabled people should not be deprived of their rights by the actions or inactions of their guardians,” Lytton said.

Lytton noted almost every court agrees the statute of limitations remains tolled after a suit is filed on behalf of a minor or disabled person. Further, many jurisdictions allow a representative, suing on behalf of a disabled person, to add a defendant to an action “years after filing the initial complaint because the statute of limitations remains tolled,” Lytton noted.

Gavlin is represented by Jerome Vinkler, of Vinkler Law Offices, of suburban Burr Ridge.

Lakewood is defended by Omar Fayez, of Huston, May & Fayez, of Chicago.

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