Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed October 18, 2013

Relf v. Shatayeva, 2013 IL 114925

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (1st) 112071.

      JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride dissented, with opinion.

      This Cook County litigation arises from an automobile accident that took place in February of 2008. The driver who was accused of wrongdoing in connection with the accident died shortly thereafter, on April 25, 2008. Pursuant to his will, which was admitted to probate that September, his son was issued letters of office to serve as independent administrator of the estate. The statute of limitations for plaintiff’s claim of personal injuries was two years. Just before that limitations period was to expire, in February of 2010, plaintiff filed suit. She apparently was unaware of the demise and her action against a dead person was, therefore, invalid. Attempts to serve process were initially unsuccessful, but a special process server eventually conveyed to the plaintiff, on May 17, 2010, the information that the defendant was dead.

      Section 13-209 of the Code of Civil Procedure allows a two-year extension of the limitations period under certain conditions, one of which is that the plaintiff move to substitute the decedent’s personal representative as defendant. This the plaintiff did not do. Instead, after the original two-year limitations period had run, plaintiff sought and obtained the circuit court’s permission to have an employee of plaintiff’s attorney appointed as “special administrator” to defend the estate. This procedure has no statutory authorization.

      The circuit court had dismissed the action on limitations grounds, and the supreme court, in this decision, agreed, rejecting the appellate court’s holding to the contrary. Despite not originally knowing of the demise, on learning of it, the plaintiff should have sought leave to amend the complaint so as to substitute as defendant the decedent’s son, who was decedent’s personal representative. She should have then served process on that representative. The supreme court said that implicit in these obligations is a duty to use reasonable diligence, as to which the plaintiff fell short.