The Legal Principle of Tolling and Its Impact on Your Illinois Auto Accident Case

hourglassWhen you’re injured in an auto accident, there are certainly many things on your mind. You’re likely concerned, first and foremost, about the welfare of your family and you, as well as recovering from your injuries. Your legal rights probably aren’t at the forefront of your thoughts. Nevertheless, it is very important to engage in pro-active steps to ensure that you don’t lose your legal right to obtain compensation, whether that involves pursuing the at-fault driver or your own insurance company. While acting right away is always best, you should not assume that, if you didn’t act immediately, you have no case. One recent case decided by the Third District Appellate Court offers an example in which a Northern Illinois woman was able to pursue her case despite a claim that her case was barred by the statute of limitations.

The plaintiff in the case, Terri Whitehead, was injured in the summer of 2007 in an auto accident in Wisconsin. The other driver was uninsured. Whitehead promptly submitted claim forms to her insurance company, Country Preferred Insurance Company, but, by the fall of 2009, the claim was still ongoing. By October 2009, Whitehead had retained an attorney and sent her insurance company a demand for arbitration of her claim. The insurance denied the woman’s demand, stating that Whitehead’s insurance policy had a two-year statute of limitations provision in it, so her demand was too late. The insurance company followed that up by going to court, asking for a judgment declaring Whitehead’s demand to be time-barred.

The trial court in Will County, however, disagreed and ruled that Whitehead’s demand was not barred. The insurance company appealed, but it lost again. The reason the insured woman won was because of a legal principle called “tolling.” When a limitations period is tolled, that means that it is paused or delayed because of some condition or event.

In Illinois, insurers are allowed to include limitations periods in their insurance policy contracts, but the Illinois Insurance Code places restrictions on that, including stating various events that can toll the expiration of that limitations period. Section 143.1 of the Insurance Code says that the limitations period is tolled from the time you file a proof of loss with your insurer until the insurance company denies your claim. In Whitehead’s case, the insurer had never actually denied her claim until it denied her arbitration demand. That meant that the limitations period “clock” was stopped from the time the injured woman filed her first notice of claim forms in November 2007 until Country Preferred denied the arbitration demand in October 2009. Factoring in that nearly-two-year period of tolling, Whitehead’s demand was well within the required two-year period and therefore was not barred.

What does this ruling mean for you? As Whitehead’s favorable outcome illustrates, if substantial time has passed, don’t simply assume that you have no case. If you’ve been injured, even if considerable time has passed, contact experienced Illinois injury attorneys who can advise you regarding your rights. The diligent and knowledgeable Chicago auto accident attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck can provide you with answers, advice, and advocacy upon which you can rely. To set up a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.