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 us in BC 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 passed a cabinet order (order in council) 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 stopped 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 in council 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) most of the civil limitation periods in British Columbia which would have otherwise expired in the meantime will have been extended by exactly one year.

If you're interested in the technical details or you suffer from insomnia, the December 21, 2020, order in council is here.  The provincial government also released an explanatory document here

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.

Now the qualifiers:

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

2.  As 2020 has demonstrated, just about anything can happen, and it's possible that between now and March 25, 2021, the provincial government could issue another cabinet order to change this yet again.

3.  The law of limitation periods is very technical.  There are entire books written on the topic.  My note, above, barely scratches the surface.  Promptly get legal advice if you have a limitation question or issue.