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An Old But Important Statute of Limitations Case

It is very common that someone will come into my office and explain that he is a victim of legal malpractice. Often, for reasons I don’t understand, the person waits more than two years after the underlying judgment before they contact me. By waiting this long, the statute of limitations has run and there is absolutely nothing we can do to help the plaintiff.

In Illinois the plaintiff has two years to file suit from whenever the plaintiff discovers the injury. Where there is litigation, discovery occurs when the underlying case reaches judgment.

In Belden v. Emmerman, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the statute of limitations begins to run when there is an adverse judgment against the injured party. The defendant moved to dismiss and the plaintiff argued that, because he filed an appeal of the adverse judgment, the statute of limitations did not start to run until the appeal was decided.

The trial court and the appellate court rejected that argument. The appellate court explained:

Plaintiffs argue that because the circuit court’s order could have been reversed on appeal, they did not know whether they had been damaged by the actions of defendants on July 15, 1982. However, given the nature of defendants’ alleged activities and plaintiffs’ knowledge of them at the time of the alleged breach, we conclude that they had knowledge of damages as of July 15, 1982.

If you lose your case, you have two years from the date of the judgment (or settlement) to bring a legal malpractice case. Don’t wait.

Source: Belden v. Emmerman, 560 NE 2d 1180 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 2nd Div. 1990 – Google Scholar