Lawsuits are based around some sort of legal claim, an event or controversy where someone was harmed. For contracts this harm is usually comes in the form of a breach, where one party fails to fulfill its obligations. However, people are not allowed to simply lie in wait indefinitely after a breach of contract and file a suit decades later. Instead, the law imposes a rule called a statute of limitations. This rule acts as a time limit on filing a case, though the time limit varies based on the particular circumstances of the case.
After learning about statutes of limitations, many people wonder why they exist.
Intuitively, it seems unfair that an injured party should have a countdown placed on their ability to seek compensation. In reality there are two reasons for it, fairness to the defendant and the accuracy of the trial. From the standpoint of fairness, the law believes that even if someone has done something wrong, they still have the right to deal with it in open court and then put it behind them, rather than having the threat of a lawsuit hanging over them for the rest of their life.
As for the accuracy of the trial, evidence often degrades over time. Crucial objects can be lost, and witnesses’ recollections of events can grow hazy. Consequently, courts want plaintiffs bringing cases swiftly in order to have the best information available.
How Long is the Statute of Limitations for Breach of Contract?
For the purposes of contract law the statute of limitations can be as long 10 years or as short as one depending on what type of contract it is. The longest time limit, 10 years, belongs to breaches of standard written contracts. However, if the contract breached was an oral one rather than a written one, then Illinois law brings the statute of limitations down from 10 years to five. Certain sales contracts can have even shorter limits, four years by default, but the terms of the contract can opt to limit it to as little as one year.
In addition to the question of how long the statute of limitations is, the other major concern is the question of when the clock starts to count down. The general rule is that the time limit starts running from the moment of the breach, not the moment that the breach causes the injury. However, there is an exception to this normal starting point if something called the Discovery Rule applies.
The Discovery Rule "tolls" the statute of limitations, meaning that it prevents the time from counting down, until the injured party either discovers the breach or should have reasonably discovered the breach. Importantly, the Discovery Rule does not function for all breach of contract claims in Illinois, so whether it applies will depend on the specific facts of a case. There are also other rules that can toll the statute under certain circumstances such as if the injured party is a minor or away on military service.
If you believe you have a claim against someone for breaching a contract, contact a Palatine civil litigation attorney before the statute of limitations on your claim expires. Our experienced lawyers help clients across northwest suburban Cook County, in towns like Barrington, Des Plaines, and Crystal Lake.
About the Author: Founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, Colin Gilbert, received his J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of law in 2005. Colin argues cases across many practice areas including criminal defense, collections, civil litigation, real estate law, and corporate law. Colin is an active member of the Board of Governors of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and the Illinois Creditors Bar Association. He is currently Vice President of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, and is a Commissioner for the Village of Arlington Heights. Colin has a 10.0 Attorney rating on Avvo, and was named one of the 2014 “Top 40 Under 40” Trial Lawyers in Illinois by the National Trial Lawyers Association.