What is a statute of limitations?
Basically, it's a deadline. For medical malpractice lawsuits in Illinois, the statute of limitations is two years. In other words, you have just two years to file a lawsuit. These deadlines are set by law and taken very seriously by judges.
What happens if I miss the deadline?
If you miss the deadline, you're out of luck. Your case will get thrown out. And you generally don't get a second chance. The key is knowing -- or hiring an attorney who knows -- what the statute of limitations is, and when the clock started ticking. In other words, is it two years from the date of your doctor visit, or two years from a later date? An experienced medical malpractice attorney will know the rule, as well as the exceptions.
What are some of the exceptions?
Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice in Illinois is two years from the date the malpractice occurred. However, there are exceptions, and they aren't always easy to understand (another reason why an experienced attorney is a good place to start). For example, if you discover the malpractice later on, such as when a medical instrument is left inside a patient during surgery, the clock doesn't start to tick until the date you know (or should know) that your symptoms were caused by malpractice. Other exceptions to the two-year deadline exist for minors, and those who are mentally incompetent. When medical malpractice results in death, the statute of limitations is generally two years from the date of death.
When should I hire an attorney?
As soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that evidence has disappeared or people have forgotten details. And the sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner they can get started and ensure that your case is filed before the deadline. You can't put together a medical malpractice lawsuit overnight. It takes a lot of preparation -- including getting an opinion from a medical expert -- before a lawsuit is ready for filing.