Ontario Announces End to Limitation Period Suspension – What Took so Long?

On March 16, 2020, the Province of Ontario announced the suspension of limitation periods for civil claims in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other provinces took similar action.

Last week, the province announced that the suspension will be revoked as of September 14, and limitation periods will resume running from where they were paused in March. Other provinces lifted their suspensions earlier. What took Ontario so long? And what was the impact on the standard plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit?

What is the Limitation Period in Civil Claims?

In the United States, criminal cases are restricted by the ‘Statute of Limitations,’ a set amount of time after which a person cannot be prosecuted for a crime. No such rule exists in Canadian criminal law, but a similar restriction applies to civil claims in all provinces.

In Ontario, the basic limitation period for civil actions is two years. In other words, an injured person has two years from the moment of their injury to initiate a personal injury lawsuit. However, certain exceptions to this rule apply:

  • If a person’s injury or loss is not immediately apparent at the moment of the accident, the two-year limitation period will only begin once the injury or loss is discovered
  • If an injury victim is unaware at the time of the accident that they are able to pursue legal action, the two-year limitation period will only begin once they have been made aware of this option
  • If an injury victim is under the age of 18 at the time of the accident, the two-year limitation period will not begin until their eighteenth birthday, or until they are represented by a litigation guardian
  • If a person is mentally, psychologically, or physically unable to initiate proceedings, the two-year limitation period will not begin until they are represented by a litigation guardian

Exceptions also apply in cases where a family member initiates action on a loved one’s behalf, and where the legal action is directed at a municipality or the province.

Why was Ontario’s Limitation Period Suspended?

The initial decision to suspend the running of limitation periods was made to address access to justice issues posed by the swelling pandemic. In Ontario, there was concern that the courts would be unable to process statements and filings. There was also concern that the court system’s digital resources would be unable to cope with the shift to virtual proceedings. In other words, the suspension was enacted to ensure that plaintiffs would not, through no fault of their own, miss the deadline to initiate a personal injury lawsuit or other civil action.

Why is the Limitation Period Still Suspended?

Much of the legal community was receptive to the initial action. There was widespread acknowledgement that emergency measures were necessary to ensure equal access to justice amid an unprecedented global health emergency. However, the province has faced criticism for the prolonged suspension. In Alberta, limitation periods resumed running on June 1.

As a recent article in The Lawyer’s Daily notes: “The suspension of limitation periods for much of 2020 is resulting in a measure of uncertainty, not only for potential defendants and third parties, but for all litigants who may be waiting on a decision by another party on whether to add a contribution claim. In short, if affects a great many open and active actions.”

It is unclear why the Province waited so long to announce the resumption of limitation periods. Concerns about the courts’ ability to process filings in the initial weeks of the pandemic were warranted, but any issues should have long since been resolved. After all, most of the legal workforce, including the team at Will Davidson LLP, shifted relatively seamlessly to a work-from-home model.

Concerns about access to justice for Ontarians without easy internet access are also valid. However, there is now a need pull litigants into the 21st century.

“I grant that for some accessing the Internet is difficult, but it is not significantly more burdensome than having to prepare physical court filings and attend personally at the court to issue a claim,” the author behind the Lawyer’s Daily piece writes. “It is true that many Ontarians could find navigating the online filing portal difficult, but again, the in-person filing process has its own complications and challenges that for a lay person can be overwhelming.”

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More

If you are a plaintiff in an ongoing personal injury lawsuit, chances are you will not have been affected by the paused limitation periods. However, for the relatively small number of Ontarians who are considering initiating legal action or who may be the subject of a personal injury claim, the pause has caused significant uncertainty.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our experienced team. 

Image: Shutterstock

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