In a long awaited opinion, the Third District Appellate Court recently solidified the one-year limitation period for Dramshop Act claims. This is a huge win for dram defendants, insurers and counsel.
As a reminder:
A cause of action brought pursuant to the Dramshop Act “shall be barred unless commenced within one year next after the cause of action accrued.” 235 ILCS 5/6-21(a) (West 2014).
In Fuller v. Benny’s Corner Bar & Grill, 2022 IL App (3d) 180670, the plaintiff filed a Dram claim against four bars for the death of her son and for medical and funeral expenses. The important dates are as follows:
- Alleged Incident Occurred – April 16, 2015
- Original Complained Filed – April 15, 2016
- Pl’s Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint Filed – November 3, 2017
After the expiration of the one-year limitation period, the plaintiff sought to amend the complaint to add a loss of society claim on behalf of herself and the decedent’s siblings. The plaintiff argued the amended pleading related back to the filing of the original complaint pursuant to Section 2-616(b) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, because the claims grew out of the same occurrence. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion because the one-year period had lapsed and the amended complaint did not relate back. The plaintiff appealed this ruling.
At the trial court level, the defense argued the Dramshop Act’s one-year limitation period was a “special and jurisdictional” statute of limitations, which precluded additional claims that were brought beyond the statute’s one-year limitation period. In support of their contention, the defendants relied heavily on the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Demchuk v. Duplancich, 92 Ill. 2d 1, 9 (1982), where the supreme court held the one-year limitation in the Dramshop Act was “a condition precedent to the right of recovery which must be observed by all plaintiffs in order to bring themselves within the [Dramshop] Act.” Id.
(As a side note, the Demchuk case evaluated the one-year limitation relating to minors and it held that based on the plain language of the Dramshop Act and the “evident purpose of the limitation,” the action involving minor plaintiffs was required to be filed within one year after the cause of action accrued.)
The appellate court ruled that although the one-year limitation period in the Dramshop Act is not a condition precedent to the trial court’s jurisdiction, it is, nonetheless, “a condition precedent to the right of recovery which must be observed by all plaintiffs in order to bring themselves within the Act.” Demchuk, 92 Ill. 2d at 9. The Illinois Supreme Court has stated that the intent of the limitation period in the Dramshop Act is “to prevent the evil of prolonged liability of dramshop owners who rarely have actual knowledge of the events upon which their liability is based.” Lowrey v. Malkowski, 20 Ill. 2d 280 at 284 (1960). Therefore, the court concluded compliance with the one-year limitation provision in the Dramshop Act is a condition precedent to the right of recovery.
The court further explained the uniqueness of the Dramshop Act. A “condition precedent” to bringing the loss of society claims in this case was the filing a motion to join the dramshop claim for loss of society within one-year after the accrual of the cause of action. See, Morales v. Fail Safe, Inc., 311 Ill. App. 3d 231, 236 (1999) (“[t]he one-year proviso of the Dramshop Act is not a statute of limitations; it is a condition precedent to the right of recovery which must be observed by all plaintiffs in order to bring themselves within the coverage of the Act”). Because the plaintiff in this case did not meet the condition precedent for recovery under the Dramshop Act, the relation-back doctrine cannot be applied in this case. See 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b) (West 2016).
Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend the complaint.
Congratulations to Attorney Greg Gaz for doing a great job for the defense and for all Dram defendants in Illinois.