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Illinois Looks Forward at Relation-Back Doctrine

by Scott Britton | January 31, 2008

The Illinois Supreme Court recently set out to shed light on the “gray area” of the relation back doctrine, codified by 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b), through their January 08 decision in Porter v. Decatur Memorial Hosp. The original complaint in Porter alleged the hospital staff was negligent for failing to report signs of diminishing neurologic status to the neurosurgeon. After some discovery, it became clear that a radiologist failed to properly read a CT scan, and the plaintiff amended the complaint to specifically include the new allegation. The Hospital claimed that the allegation regarding the CT scan should be dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitation had run. The plaintiff maintained that the allegation related back to the original action, and the Supreme Court agreed.

The Court regaled readers with a history of the relation-back doctrine, relying on both state and federal law. The purpose of the doctrine is to preserve causes of action against technical default unrelated to the merits of the case. Ultimately, the Court used a “sufficiently close relationship” test which allows relation-back when the new claim, compared with the timely allegations, shows that the events were close in time, close in subject matter, and led to the same injury. This, the Court believes, will give defendants sufficient notice, saving them from prejudice.