In Illinois, a conflicting statute turned a medical negligence lawsuit into a wrongful death claim. An Illinois appeals panel decided a woman’s family was not prevented by a repose statute from adding wrongful death claims to a preexisting lawsuit. A repose statute is similar to a statute of limitations.
The woman died in 2013 while her 2011 medical negligence lawsuit was pending against a physician, the University of Chicago Medical Center, and affiliates. A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court delivered the opinion on March 25, 2016. The decision addressed a question of law not previously covered by the state’s courts.
From 2007-2009, Jill Prusak was under Dr. Rama Jager’s care. According to court documents, the doctor allegedly misdiagnosed a tumor in Prusak’s central nervous system as an eye ailment. When Prusak died, her family added wrongful death to the lawsuit in April 2014. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the death claims, arguing the claims, filed more than four years after Jager last treated Prusak, were past the four-year statute of repose.
In the first impression opinion, the appellate court pointed out incompatibilities between statutes dealing with medical negligence, wrongful death, and repose. The appellate court referred to a 1996 opinion from the Illinois Second District Appellate Court: “Medical malpractice plaintiffs, in particular, are afforded every reasonable opportunity to establish a case, and to this end, amendments to pleadings are liberally allowed to enable the action to be heard on the merits rather than brought to an end because of procedural technicalities.”
The negligence alleged in the original and amended complaints dealt with the same facts. The court decided the defendants were not hit with new allegations to defend. Defendants did not show they would be “prejudiced” by introduction of the wrongful death claims.
In the opinion, a justice quoted a U.S. Supreme Court decision from a 1986 case: “There is no reason to apply a statute of limitations when, as here, the respondent has had notice from the beginning that petitioner was trying to enforce a claim against it because of the events leading up to the death of the deceased.”
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