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How long do I have to bring a car accident case?

From the start, victims of car accidents in Illinois share concern over how much time they have to bring a lawsuit in court to recover for the injuries they have sustained-both economic and non-economic.  They have good reason to be urgent too because like other states Illinois has statutes of limitations for these kinds of disputes that bar suits if they are not brought quickly enough.  The exact length of time that you have though depends on the form and function of you lawsuit.  So let’s go over the major categories of cases that relate to Illinois car accident litigation and review the statutes of limitations laws that relate to each of them.


If your lawsuit alleges that the defendant(s) acted unreasonably and caused the car accident which led to your bodily injuries, then you have two years to bring a lawsuit as 735 ILCS 5/13-202 lays out:

How long do I have to bring a car accident case?“Actions for damages for an injury to the person, or for false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution, or for a statutory penalty, or for abduction, or for seduction, or for criminal conversation that may proceed pursuant to subsection (a) of Section 7.1 of the Criminal Conversation Abolition Act, except damages resulting from first degree murder or the commission of a Class X felony and the perpetrator thereof is convicted of such crime, shall be commenced within 2 years next after the cause of action accrued…”

If you look closely at this language though you will see that you have two years from the time when your “cause of action accrued” and not when the accident actually happened.  What accrual means in this context is the time when you realized you could bring a case or should have realized you could bring a case.  Furthermore, the accepted idea for when this realization should occur is when you discover your injuries and connect them to the car accident in Illinois.

Obviously, with accidents so traumatic as car crashes, you will probably realize and discover your injuries rather immediately.  The notion of latent harms and subsequent discovery is generally more common with incidents of medical malpractice and other kinds of situations.  Thus, the two years that you have per 735 ILCS 5/13-202 will probably begin soon after the automobile collision.  Yet, you can always for an extension and the test the courts use is reasonability.  Were you reasonable in discovering your injuries until when you did or were you reasonable in not realizing they stemmed from the car crash?  See Del Bianco v. American Motorists Ins.Co., 73 Ill. App. 3d 743, 747 (Ill. App Ct. 1979).


If you bring a claim of negligence for property damage in an Illinois court because of a car accident, then you will have more time than if you would have brought one for personal injuries as 735 ILCS 5/13-205 states:

“Actions on unwritten contracts, expressed or implied, or on awards of arbitration, or to recover damages for an injury done to property, real or personal, or to recover the possession of personal property or damages for the detention or conversion thereof, and all civil actions not otherwise provided for, shall be commenced within 5 years next after the cause of action accrued.”

From this language, Illinois law affords you 5 years to pursue your theory of property damage.  Also, it builds in the same ideas of accrual into this section as were in the laws for personal injuries.  Thus, in certain circumstances, you might be able to widen the period of time by which you can file a case after when the car accident happened.  Again, the rule here will be reasonability.


If you choose to pursue a theory of products liability in your Illinois car accident case, then your time constraints will mirror those of negligence: two years for personal injuries and five years for bodily injuries.  Additionally, accrual is considered to begin when you reasonably discern or injuries or should have discerned them.  Yet, there is one additional issue to consider when mulling over a products liability lawsuit: repose.  Illinois has a statute of repose that bars products liability cases after certain periods of time with no exceptions.  Here are the limits set by that law:

  • 12 years from when the product was first sold.
  • 10 years from when the first customer acquired the product.
  • 10 years from when the product was first altered.

Of course, if the buyer and seller specifically contract for a different warranty, then that agreement will trump the above rules but then that would make the matter contractual in nature and less reliant on de facto products liability rules.  Here is Illinois’ statute of repose in pertinent part that would govern in these typical Illinois products liability cases:

“Subject to the provisions of subsections (c) and (d) no product liability action based on any theory or doctrine shall be commenced except within the applicable limitations period and, in any event, within 12 years from the date of first sale, lease or delivery of possession by a seller or 10 years from the date of first sale, lease or delivery of possession to its initial user, consumer, or other non-seller, whichever period expires earlier, of any product unit that is claimed to have injured or damaged the plaintiff, unless the defendant expressly has warranted or promised the product for a longer period and the action is brought within that period.”735 ILCS 5/13-213(b).

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