What Is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Illinois?

If you've been injured in Illinois, one of the first things you need to know is how long you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. We'll fill you in on the basics, including what happens if you miss the filing deadline.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

A "statute of limitations" is a law that limits your time to file a lawsuit in court. Illinois has several that apply to different kinds of personal injury (PI) claims. If you think you have a case and you're considering a personal injury lawsuit, one of the first things you need to know is how much time you have before the statute of limitations runs out. We'll fill you in on the basics.

Starting with Illinois' two-year general rule, we cover several of the most common personal injury filing deadlines. There are a few situations when Illinois law extends the time to file. We'll provide some examples. You might also wonder what happens to your case if the limitation period expires before you file. Spoiler alert: Nothing good.

Illinois' Two-Year General Rule for Personal Injury Lawsuits

You'll find the general rule for Illinois personal injury lawsuits at 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-202 (2024). As a rule, you have two years from the date you're injured to file your case in court. This two-year deadline applies to a variety of personal injury claims, such as those involving:

Other Statutes of Limitations for Specific Cases

Illinois' two-year filing deadline isn't a one-size-fits-all rule. When a more specific statute of limitations is a better fit, that's probably the deadline that applies. Here are some examples.

Medical Malpractice

Special rules often apply when you've been injured by a careless doctor, hospital, or other health care provider. 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-212 (2024) gives you two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The clock begins running on the earlier of the date that you:

  • actually discover your injury, or
  • should have discovered your injury, had you been reasonably careful to look for signs and symptoms.

Regardless of when (or if) you discover a malpractice-related injury, you can't sue later than four years after the date of the malpractice.

(Find out more about Illinois' medical malpractice laws, including the statute of limitations.)

Wrongful Death

When personal injuries result in death, the victim's estate might decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In most cases, the filing deadline is two years from the date of death. The filing period is longer when death results from "violent intentional conduct" or from certain types of manslaughter or homicide. (740 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 180/2 (2024).)


When someone makes a false statement of fact about you that harms your reputation, the law calls that "defamation." Illinois law allows you just one year to file a defamation lawsuit. (735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-201 (2024).)

Can the Statute of Limitations Deadline Be Extended?

In a few situations, yes. Keep in mind that the extensions we discuss here (and others) are exceptions to the statute of limitations rules. It's up to you to convince the court that you're entitled to an extension. Most often, you'll get strong opposition from the defendant (the party you're suing). That isn't a battle you want to fight alone. You'll want legal counsel to make your arguments to the judge.

The Discovery Rule

In most personal injury cases, you know right away that you've been hurt. That's why the statute of limitations normally begins running on the date you're injured. But what if you don't know that you suffered an injury when it happens? It might sound far-fetched, but consider this example.

On June 1, 2022, you have abdominal surgery. The doctor accidentally leaves a surgical instrument in your body. On November 15, 2024 you see your primary care doctor, complaining of abdominal pain. An X-ray on that date reveals the left-behind surgical instrument. If Illinois' two-year medical malpractice statute of limitations ran from the date of your injury—June 1, 2022—you'd already be past the lawsuit-filing deadline by the time you discovered the malpractice. That's obviously an unfair result.

To address that unfairness, Illinois has adopted the "discovery rule" for medical malpractice cases. Recall that the limitation clock runs from the earlier of the date you discover your malpractice-related injury, or the date you should have discovered it if you were being reasonably careful.

The discovery rule isn't limited only to medical malpractice lawsuits. It might apply to other kinds of PI cases, too. When the rule applies—ask your lawyer if it does in your case—it provides extra time to file in court.

Minors and Legally Disabled Persons

Minors (younger than 18 years old) and legally disabled persons (unable to manage their affairs without assistance) who suffer a personal injury get two years to file a lawsuit, beginning on the date:

  • the minor turns 18, or
  • the legal disability ends.

When someone who's already been injured later becomes legally disabled, the statute of limitations is tolled (temporarily paused), usually until the disability ends.

(735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-211 (2024).)

Defendant Is Outside of Illinois

When the defendant is outside of Illinois and you're unable to serve them with your lawsuit, the statute of limitations doesn't run for the period they're outside the state. The clock starts (or resumes) running once they return to Illinois. (735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/13-208 (2024).)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If you think you've missed the filing deadline for your case, or that your time to sue is close to expiring, your first call should be to an Illinois personal injury lawyer. You want to know if the statute has run out (or is about to). If so, ask whether an extension of the deadline might be available.

Keep in mind that the statute of limitations is a claim killer. That's its only job, and it does that job will stone-cold efficiency. Once the limitation period has run, and if no extension is possible, your claim is legally dead. There's no way to bring it back to life, regardless of how serious, permanent, or disabling your injuries might be. File a lawsuit in court and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it. The court will have no choice but to grant that request. Worse yet, the defendant might ask the court to sanction (penalize) you for filing a frivolous case.

You won't do any better if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your claim without filing a lawsuit. When the statute of limitations expires, you instantly lose all your negotiating leverage. Because you can't sue, neither the defendant nor its insurer have any reason to take you or your injury claim seriously. They won't pay you anything for your injuries.

Get Help With Your Statute of Limitations Questions

Statutes of limitations are among the most complicated and difficult of all laws. Many lawyers who don't regularly file personal injury cases won't give advice about case filing deadlines—the risk of a mistake is just too high. A miscalculation by even a day can mean the end of your right to seek compensation for your injuries.

With so much on the line, you need expert legal help. Speak to a personal injury lawyer near you about your case. And don't delay, because time is the enemy of your claim.

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