Are Third-Party Suits In Medical Malpractice Cases Subject to the Four-Year Statute of Repose ?
In Hayes v. Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, 136 Ill. 2d 450, 557 N.E.2d 873, 145 Ill. Dec. 894 (1990), the Illinois Supreme Court held that third-party actions for contribution are subject to the four-year statute of repose set forth in section 13-212(a). Hayes, 136 Ill. 2d at 460-61.
In reaching this conclusion, the Hayes court rejected the third-party plaintiffs' argument that an action for contribution does not seek recovery for the damages sustained by the original plaintiff, but rather, seeks the enforcement of an equitable duty to share liability among the parties responsible for the original plaintiff's injury.
The court reasoned:
"We believe that the plaintiffs' interpretation of the medical malpractice statute of repose unduly limits its scope and misapprehends the purpose behind its enactment.
It is true, as the plaintiffs observe, that an action for contribution need not be predicated on the same theory of recovery as that asserted by the plaintiff in the underlying action.
Nevertheless, 'the basis for a contributor's obligation rests on his liability in tort to the injured party', even if the plaintiff in the direct action did not assert the theory of liability on which the third-party action relies.
The action for contribution apportions the damages among the parties responsible for the original plaintiff's injury, and the contributor is obligated for the damages directly created by the contributor's negligent actions.
The third-party plaintiff, therefore, is seeking from the third-party defendant those damages proximately caused by the negligent acts of the third-party defendant which the third-party plaintiff may be obligated to pay in the underlying suit.
This leads us to conclude that an action for contribution is an 'action for damages' under the medical malpractice statute of repose." Hayes, 136 Ill. 2d at 456-57.
The Hayes court further observed that section 13-212 was enacted in response to a perceived medical malpractice insurance crisis and that a definite period in which an action was required to be filed would enable insurance companies to predict future liabilities and reduce health-care malpractice insurance premiums. Hayes, 136 Ill. 2d at 457-58.
The supreme court determined that, "because a suit for contribution against an insured for damages arising out of patient care exposes insurance companies to the same liability as if the patient were to have brought a direct action against the insured, we believe that the term 'or otherwise' in the medical malpractice statute of repose includes actions for contribution against a physician for injuries arising out of patient care." Hayes, 136 Ill. 2d at 458.