CHICAGO — The brother of Chicago chess legend Morris Giles, who was killed in 2012 after being struck by a tow truck, waited a day too long to file a survival claim against the driver, a panel of appellate justices said in a recent decision.
The panel at Illinois First District Appellate Court unanimously upheld a lower court's dismissal of the lawsuit brought by Giles' brother, Roscoe Giles, who filed one day too late to successfully sue the tow truck driver.
Justice John B. Simon delivered the court's judgment, with justices Daniel J. Pierce and Sheldon A. Harris concurring.
"This case proves to be yet another reminder to attorneys and litigants about the importance of complying with statutes of limitations and that the proper application of a limitations period may produce results that seem harsh or undesirable," Simon wrote in the eight-page appellate court decision that was handed down Feb. 5. "[Roscoe Giles], whose brother was killed, filed his case just a single day after the statute of limitations had run."
In his appeal, Roscoe Giles tried to use his brother's "legal disability as an excuse for his own untimely filing," Simon wrote in the decision. "The Illinois Code of Civil Procedure does not permit the statutes to be used in the manner that [Roscoe Giles] advocates and, accordingly, we affirm the denial of [Roscoe Gile's] petition for relief from the judgment."
At the time of his death at age 59, Morris Giles was a Chicago-area chess master "who impressed others with his brash and daring style, yet his soft, humble demeanor" and whose most famous win was against Walter Browne at U.S. Open in Boston in 1988, according to an online chess biography. On Dec. 22, 2012, he was struck by a tow truck driven by Robert Parks, according to the appellate court's decision.
"Giles was unresponsive and unconscious from the time of the collision until he died the next day at the hospital," the decision said.
Exactly two years after Morris Giles died and two years and a day after the collision, Roscoe Giles' survival claim against the tow truck driver was filed in Cook County Circuit Court, according to the decision. The statute of limitations for a survival claim is two years.
"Before the limitations issue was litigated or before there was any other meaningful activity in the case, the case was dismissed for want of prosecution," Simon wrote in the decision. "[The] plaintiff eventually hired new counsel and filed a petition for relief from the judgment."
The defendant claimed the case had been filed more than two years after the collision. Roscoe Giles maintained his filing had been timely because his brother had been "under a legal disability from the time he was struck until he died the next day," the decision said.
Roscoe Giles also tried to file under a wrongful death statute, in which the statute of limitations accrues at the time of death instead of at the time of injury, according to the decision.
After a hearing, the trial court ruled that "any legal disability did not toll the statute of limitations" and that the new claim Roscoe Giles wanted to file "could not relate back to an untimely filed original pleading," according to the appellate court's decision.
Roscoe Giles appealed his cause and sought to amend his case after final judgment in the case, but the appeals court said he did "not have an absolute right to amend" and that "the decision rests in the sound discretion of the trial court," Simon wrote in the decision.
"We will not disturb a trial court's ruling on whether an amendment should be allowed unless the trial court abuses its discretion," Simon wrote in the decision. "Here, [Roscoe Giles] let more than a year pass from the time his case was dismissed until the time he tried to file a new claim. The trial court was under no obligation to accept the amended pleading—asserted for the first time after plaintiff exhibited a lack of diligence in pursuing his original claim. The trial court committed no error when it denied [the] plaintiff’s petition for relief from the judgment."
According to Cook County court records, Giles is represented by the firm of Coplan & Crane, of Oak Park.
Sparks was defended by the firm of Parrillo Weiss LLC, of Chicago.