People sometimes wonder why it is important to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible if you suspect an injury was caused by the carelessness or recklessness of another. One important reason is to identify all possible defendants before the statute of limitations (the time in which a lawsuit must be filed) expires.
Consider the following situation: The plaintiff is involved in a car accident caused by the defendant, who was driving his mother’s car at the time of the accident. The plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant within the appropriate statute of limitations period (2 years from the date of the accident). During discovery, the plaintiff learns that the defendant was driving the vehicle within the scope of his employment as a salesman for X Corporation. Plaintiff amends her complaint to add X Corporation as an additional defendant — however, by this time, the statute of limitations has expired.
The question becomes: Does plaintiff’s amended complaint “relate back” to the original lawsuit so as to avoid being dismissed based on statute of limitations grounds? In Wilson v. Molda, No. 1-09-0386 (Ill. App. Ct. Nov. 13, 2009), the Illinois appellate court answered “no”.
The facts in Wilson were identical to the fact-pattern described above. In response to motions to dismiss brought by the defendant’s employer, Metrolift Inc., based on statute of limitations grounds, the plaintiff’s lawyer made two arguments: (1) plaintiff’s lawsuit against the original defendant should satisfy the statute of limitations based on the “respondeat superior” relationship between the defendant and his employer; and (2) the amended complaint should “relate back” to the original complaint based on section 2-616(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure. The court rejected both of plaintiff’s arguments.
First, the court found no basis in any Illinois statute or any Illinois case law to support the contention that because the employer was jointly and severally liable for the employee’s conduct under the theory of respondeat superior, the timely filing of a lawsuit against the employee preserves the plaintiff’s claim against the employer. The court “decline[d] the plaintiff’s invitation to rewrite the existing statute of limitations, as we believe that is the job of the legislature.”
Second, the court held that the plaintiff’s claim against Metrolift does not “relate back” to the original complaint under section 2-616 (b) of the Code. The court found that section (b) permits a plaintiff, under certain circumstances, to add claims to an existing action. By its own terms, subsection (b) applies only to the addition of “causes of action, cross claims or defenses.” Here, plaintiff was not seeking to add a new claim, but instead was seeking to add a new party to an existing action.
Instead, the court found that subsection (d) of section 2-626 deals with adding new parties, but only in cases of “mistaken identity.” The plaintiff admitted that this is not a case of mistaken identity, and therefore subsection (d) did not apply. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s action against the defendant’s employer based on the statute of limitations.
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