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Illinois Law Allows Certain Adults to Sue Over Their Childhood Injuries, but Timing Can Be Critical

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When children are injured in Illinois, special laws can preserve their personal injury claims. But a recent Illinois Appellate Court ruling shows that these child protection laws can be difficult to navigate. If you've been injured in Illinois, you should talk to an Illinois personal injury lawyer.

Normally, the statute of limitations prevents you from suing someone over a personal injury once two years have passed. However, there are numerous major exceptions to this rule, and you should discuss your injury with a personal injury attorney. One exception allows extra time so that injured children can wait and file a lawsuit up until their 20th birthdays.

The recent appellate case of Pirrello v. Maryville Academy shows how this seemingly simple exception to the rule can create complex results. In Pirrello, a girl was suffering from mental health issues known to be associated with suicide and self-harming behaviors. While under the care of an academy for troubled kids (The Academy), she jumped from a second-story window and sustained serious injuries.

The victim's injuries happened when she was still a child, and just before reaching her 20th birthday she sued The Academy for negligence in supervising and protecting her. She initially sued only for her personal injuries, and much later she moved to amend her lawsuit to include her parents' medical bills from the incident.

Normally, a parent has the right to sue over his or her child's medical bills. This right is expressed in Illinois Right of Married Persons Act (commonly called the Family Expense Act). The Family Expense Act says that, since parents are legally required to pay a child's medical bills, the parents can sue a person or company that injured their child and burdened them with this financial responsibility. A parent can also assign his or her right to sue to the child, allowing the child to sue for the medical bills. But this assignment of rights must be done in accordance with certain rules.

First, this right to sue must be willingly assigned to the child. In the Pirrello case, the parents had refused to assign their rights, and the father said he didn't want to be involved in [the lawsuit].

If the parents are willing to assign their rights under the Family Expense Act, this assignment of rights should typically occur within two years of the incident that caused the injuries. The 20th birthday rule that allows children to delay their lawsuits is only for the child's benefit and does not grant extra time to the parents. As adults, the parents right to sue is still bound by the normal statute of limitations, so a parent's right to sue usually expires two years after the injury.

The injury victim in Pirrello argued that this timing issue was irrelevant, since she filed her original personal injury lawsuit on time, and her parents' financial burden relates back to that personal injury. Relation back is a legal principle that allows a litigant to amend his or her lawsuit if he or she discovers a new injury later. For example, you may initially sue over broken bones from a car accident and later amend your lawsuit if a blood clot from the accident causes you to have a stroke.

However, the appellate court cited a federal case that says if an incident lead[s] to arguably different injuries, relation back does not apply. The court said the physical injuries suffered by the daughter are notably different from the financial liabilities suffered by her parents. The court refused the daughter's attempt to backdate her parents claim using the principle of relation back. In its ruling, the court denied the victim's attempt to add her parent's medical bills, and the case was reduced in scope to cover only the injuries that the victim had personally suffered.

The Illinois statute of limitations creates time limits for filing a personal injury claim. For this reason, you need to act quickly once you discover that you've been injured. Under some circumstances, you may be allowed extra time, but you should not delay your action. The timing of your lawsuit can lead to problematic circumstances, and you should seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney. When you’ve been injured, don’t delay. Contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Cavanagh Law Group.

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