Wednesday, December 23, 2020

COVID-19 and legal deadlines to start lawsuits

In British Columbia, there are time deadlines for when most civil lawsuits must be started to pursue the underlying claims.  These time periods are called "limitation periods."  The length of the limitation period varies depending on the legal basis for the claim.  Usually, if your lawsuit is not started by the end of your claim's limitation period (even if you're only one day late), you lose your right to sue and your claim is over, whether you like it or not.

When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020, it prompted the powers-that-be to suspend or restrict of much of the operations of the court system.  Some forward-thinking people realized that this step could make it more difficult or even impossible for some claimants, whose limitation periods were about to expire, to file their civil lawsuits in time.  If that happened, those claimants could lose their right to pursue their claims.

So, the provincial government promptly issued an order which suspended the running of most civil limitation periods in BC effective March 26, 2020.  In other words, for most civil claims, the limitation clock was deemed to have paused ticking on that date.  That suspension was extended from time to time as the provincial state of emergency continued over the following months.

On December 21, 2020, the provincial government issued another order which ended the suspension of limitation periods for most civil claims effective March 25, 2021 (one year after the start date of the suspension).  The result is that (unless something changes in the meantime) many of the civil limitation periods in British Columbia will have been extended by exactly one year.

Note that this suspension of most civil limitation periods for a one-year period means exactly that:  The passage of time for limitation periods in those cases is deemed to have paused for that one-year period, and it resumes thereafter.  It does not mean that those civil limitation periods are all reset to zero as of March 26, 2021.

Note as well the following:

1.  Not all civil limitation periods enjoy the benefit of this one-year suspension.  There are exceptions.

2.  Not all limitations are extended by a full one-year period.  Depending on when the cause of action arose (meaning, when the basis for the claim happened) or when the claim was discoverable, the extension might be for less than a full year.

3.  This potential extension applies only to certain civil claims based on the law of British Columbia.  Claims against parties in other provinces or the territories, or based on federal legislation (the laws of Canada), might not enjoy a similar extension of time.

The law of limitation periods is very technical, and the courts tend to enforce the limitation rules very strictly.  There are entire books written on the topic.  The above note barely scratches the surface.  Promptly get legal advice if you have a limitation question or issue.