Illinois Personal Injury Laws and Liability Rules

Learn more about the laws and rules that could affect your personal injury lawsuit in the Prairie State.

By , Attorney

Each state, including Illinois, has its own laws and rules for handling personal injury lawsuits. If you've been injured in an accident or incident that wasn't your fault in Illinois, here are some of the important laws that determine how much time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit, what happens when you're partly at fault for your injuries, and whether Illinois has limits on how much compensation you can get (called "damages").

What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit is a type of civil lawsuit that allows an injured person to get financial compensation from the person or entity who caused the harm.

Many types of accidents and intentional bad acts can lead to personal injury lawsuits, including:

Not all disputes over injuries end up in court. You might be able to resolve your personal injury case through an insurance claim. If you're unable to settle your insurance claim or your claim is denied, you can file a personal injury lawsuit.

Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Illinois?

In Illinois, you'll file your personal injury lawsuit in circuit court. Illinois has 25 circuits for 102 counties. You'll typically file your case in the county where the accident or incident took place or the county where the person or entity you're suing lives or does business.

If you're suing a person or entity for $10,000 or less, you can file your case in small claims court. If you are seeking more than $10,000 and less than a limit set for a particular circuit (typically between $30,000 and $50,000) you're required to participate in court-annexed mandatory arbitration in Illinois. Arbitration is less formal than court and tends to be faster and less expensive.

Illinois's court-annexed arbitration program is mandatory, but not binding. A panel of three arbitrators hears each case and recommends a decision. If either side disagrees with the panel's decision, the case is returned to circuit court.

Learn more about Illinois's court system.

How Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Illinois?

You start a personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint against the person or entity that harmed you (the "defendant"). Your complaint should outline the basic facts of your case and explain why the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries and losses.

You'll need to serve a copy of the complaint on the defendant along with a summons. The defendant then has a chance to answer your complaint.

In Illinois, e-filing is the required filing method for the courts. Learn more about e-filing basics and whether you might qualify for an exemption from e-filing.

The Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice has approved statewide forms that Illinois Courts must accept. Local circuit courts may have their own pre-approved forms. Standardized court forms are helpful guides when you're representing yourself, but aren't a substitute for an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Learn more about when to hire a personal injury lawyer and when to handle your own claim.

Statutes of Limitation for Personal Injury Lawsuits in Illinois

Illinois has a deadline—called the "statute of limitations" for filing personal injury lawsuits. In most cases, you have two years from the date of your injury to get your lawsuit filed.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-202(2023).)

What Happens If I Miss the Illinois Statute of Limitations Deadline?

The consequence for missing the filing deadline is severe. Unless a rare exception to the statute of limitation applies, a judge will almost certainly dismiss your case and you'll permanently lose your right to get compensation for your injuries and related losses.

Special Limitations Periods and Rules

Some types of personal injury lawsuits have different limitation periods or special rules that apply. Here are a few examples. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about how Illinois's statutes of limitation apply to your case.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice lawsuits typically must be filed within two years of when you first:

  • knew you were injured
  • reasonably should've known you were injured, or
  • received notice of your injury.

But Illinois sets an outer limit, called a "statute of repose," of four years on medical malpractice cases. In other words, you can't file a medical malpractice lawsuit more than four years after the date the malpractice occurred, no matter when you discovered or should've discovered your injuries.

People who were younger than 18 at the time the malpractice occurred typically have more time to file lawsuits. See Illinois Medical Malpractice Laws & Statutory Rules for details.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-212 (2023).)


If someone is making false statements about you that are hurting your reputation, you better take legal action quickly. You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Illinois.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-201 (2023).)

Claims Against the State of Illinois

Special rules apply when you want to make a personal injury claim against a state agency or state employee in Illinois. The Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over these types of claims.

You have one year from the date when the claim arose to file a lawsuit against the state or submit a Notice of Intent of Claim for Personal Injury to the Court of Claims. If you've submitted notice, you have up to two years to file your lawsuit.

(705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/1, -11, -22, -22-1 (2023).)

Claims Against Local Governments in Illinois

Personal injury claims against local government entities and employees in Illinois are heard in regular circuit courts, but you have to act quickly—you typically have one year from the date you were injured or the claim arose to get your lawsuit filed. Medical malpractice claims have to be filed within two years of the date a patient knew or should've known about the malpractice injury, but in no case later than four years after the alleged malpractice.

(745 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 10/8-101 (2023).)

What Happens If You're Partly to Blame for the Incident?

In order to get compensation in a personal injury case in Illinois, you have to prove that the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries. In most cases, this means proving that the defendant was negligent (careless).

Some defendants will point the finger back at you and argue that you were also negligent. Here are the rules that apply in Illinois when you share blame for your injuries.

Illinois Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State

Illinois follows what's called a "modified comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, you can recover compensation when you share blame for an accident or incident so long as you're less at fault than the defendant. If you're more than 50% at fault, you get nothing.

If you're eligible to recover under this rule, your compensation is reduced by a percentage that's equal to your share of fault for the accident.

(745 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/20-1116 (2023).)

How Does Illinois's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're in a car accident n Illinois. The other driver carelessly makes a left turn and hits you. You might have been able to avoid the accident, but you were glancing at your phone when it happened. You file a car accident lawsuit against the other driver.

The case goes all the way to trial. The jury finds the other driver 70% at fault for the accident for making an unsafe left turn. The jury finds you 30% at fault for distracted driving. If your damages total $10,000, you will get $7,000 ($10,000 - $3,000) because your compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault (30%). But if the jury decides that you were 51% or more at fault for the accident, you'll get no compensation from the other driver.

Auto Insurance Laws in Illinois

Illinois has a fault-based insurance system. In "fault" states, the driver who caused a car accident has to pay for the other party's damages, including medical bills, car repairs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

At-fault drivers typically rely on liability insurance to pay for damages, which is why Illinois has mandatory car insurance laws and requirements.

When Are Illinois Animal Owners Liable for Bite Injuries?

Animal owners in Illinois are legally responsible whenever their animals injure someone unless:

  • the injured person provoked the attack
  • the injured person wasn't acting peacefully at the time of the attack, or
  • the injured person was trespassing.

(510 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/16 (2023).)

Damage Caps on Illinois Injury Claims

Some states put a limit or "cap" on the amount of damages you can get in a personal injury lawsuit. Some states cap damages only in certain types of cases, like medical malpractice. Others cap only certain types of damages, like general damages (also called non-economic damages). General damages aren't meant to compensate an injured person for intangible losses like physical and emotional pain and suffering.

In 2005, lawmakers in Illinois tried to limit general damages in medical malpractice cases. But the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the cap, ruling that it violated the Illinois Constitution.

The rule is different when you are suing the state of Illinois. Damage awards are typically limited to $2 million when you sue the state government in Illinois, except in cases involving state vehicles driven by a state employee.

(705 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/8 (2023).)

Get Help With Your Personal Injury Case

If you're thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois, talk to a lawyer who practices in Illinois. Personal injury law is complex and the procedural rules you have to follow in court are rigid. For example, if you miscalculate the statute of limitation, your lawsuit will be over before it gets started.

A personal injury lawyer can answer your questions and help you value your claim. Learn more about hiring a personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a personal injury lawyer directly from this page for free.

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