When you are injured there is a time limit by which you must file your lawsuit, or you will forever be prevented from filing your lawsuit. This is called a limitation period. In Ontario, the vast majority of cases have a two-year limitation, but there are exceptions to this rule, such as in cases of sexual assault where there is no limitation period. And some cases have limitation periods that are shorter than two years. If you have been injured, it is important that you contact a lawyer right away to find out if you need to take any immediate action to protect your right to sue.
In Ontario, the Ministry of the Attorney General suspended all operations of the Superior Court on March 19, 2020. On March 20, 2020, the provincial government, through the Lieutenant Governor in Council, made O. Reg. 73/20 under s. 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), which suspended limitation periods and procedural time periods retroactive to March 16, 2020.
On April 9, 2020, the Act was amended to no longer apply to Construction Act matters as of April 16, 2020.
On June 5th, the provincial government made a further order to continue the suspension of limitation periods, up to and including September 11, 2020, the maximum renewal period allowed under the EMCPA. The suspension of the procedural deadlines is subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal, or another decision-maker responsible for the proceeding. The suspension of limitation periods does NOT apply to contractual deadlines for starting litigation, such as may be seen in some insurance policies.
On July 7, 2020, the Ontario government passed the first reading of the Re-Opening Ontario – A Flexible Response to COVID-19 Act, 2020. If passed, this Act confirms that the Ontario government will continue to extend the limitation and procedural time periods order until the previously announced date of September 11, 2020. The Act also allows for the further extension of Orders made under the Act (such as the temporary suspension of limitation periods) for up to 30 days at a time.
Currently, as of September 11, 2020, it appears that all normal limitation periods and procedural requirements will once again be in force and effect in Ontario. However, under the Act, the government can continue to extend the suspension of limitation periods in 30-day increments. The Act further stipulates that the ability of the government to continue extending the suspension of limitation periods in 30-day increments will automatically cease in one year unless specifically extended by the Legislature.
The unprecedented COVID-19 situation has therefore created a pause in Ontario’s normal limitation period protocol, but since online filings of statements of claims have continued throughout the pandemic, if you wish to avoid further delay in your litigation, you can still ask your lawyer to have your statement of claim filed electronically with the court.
Regarding matters that are going through with an appeal, effective July 16th the Court of Appeal will no longer be suspending deadlines, and the Practice Direction Concerning Extensions of Time in Civil Proceedings in the Court of Appeal for Ontario dated March 30, 2020, will be revoked, so the regular appeal deadlines will apply.
There is a process for seeking an extension for filings at the Court of Appeal, the details of which are found in paragraphs 2 and 4 of the Practice Direction Concerning the Reinstatement of Times Prescribed in Civil Proceedings in the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
In another development, the Court will be using Zoom technology for remote hearings. While the COVID-19 situation has certainly wreaked havoc throughout the world, one positive impact is that it is helping to drag Ontario’s court system into the electronic age, which will no doubt prove to be a welcome development for all litigants in Ontario.