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Legalese: One eye on the clock

Most of you are probably somewhat familiar with the fact that you only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. Sometimes people will be heard to say “statute of limitations” as a kind of blanket answer to a very complex question.


April 12, 2016
By Deryk Coward

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The fact is there are laws which prescribe in great detail the length of time a potential litigant has in which to file a lawsuit. Failure to file within the prescribed time frame is, subject to certain exceptions, fatal to the claim. If someone files a claim in court past the prescribed time frame, the opposing party can simply move to have the claim dismissed on the basis that it was filed too late. If successful in having the claim dismissed, that defendant would also likely be entitled to costs from the party who tried to file the statute-barred claim. This is an area of the law that varies widely, and very significantly, from province to province. It is therefore imperative that if you have a question about a particular matter, you ought to consult with a lawyer entitled to practice law in your province. No legal advice on any particular matter is being offered by this article.

Different types of lawsuits can have different limitation periods. There are a great number of different types of lawsuits, including things like wrongful dismissal, suing on a debt, assault, damage to chattels, damage to land, slander, nuisance and insurance claims, to name just a few. In fact, there are so many varying scenarios that it would be impossible to outline concrete guidelines for you in an article such as this. The most important principle to pass along to you is: if you think you may have a claim, speak to your lawyer about it at your very earliest opportunity. One of the very first things a competent lawyer should do is ascertain whether there is a potential limitations issue with your case.

For example, in Manitoba, if you want to sue for damage to your equipment you have exactly two years to file your claim in court from the date the damage was caused. If someone damages your land, you have exactly six years to file your claim in court from the date the damage was caused. Discrepancies such as this are the norm, not the exception, and you must know the governing law for the facts of your particular case.

If you retain a lawyer to handle your potential case within the time limits prescribed for your claim, and your lawyer fails to file your claim before the applicable time limit elapses, then you would be able to pursue your lawyer for negligence for his/her failure to file your claim on time.

Do not let anyone tell you not to worry about a limitation date, because generally speaking they cannot be waived. I have seen instances in Manitoba where the parties involved genuinely attempt to negotiate an out-of-court resolution, only to have those talks break down three years (or more) after the actual damage was caused. In such a scenario, the owner of the equipment is out of luck. If the person who damaged the equipment knows the law, he/she would be able to walk away with no fear of ever being sued.

You should be wary of insurance claims, as insurance claims are very time-sensitive and vary from province to province. If you considering an insurance claim, it would be wise to consult with a lawyer in your jurisdiction about the time within which you must file a claim even as you are still in discussions with your insurer. The insurance company does not need to know that you have researched your legal obligations in the background in order to protect your legal interests.

In addition to the particular limitation statutes in each province, there are many other pieces of legislation (both federal and provincial) that stipulate the time within which a claim must be brought. Generally speaking, failure to file a claim by the time prescribed will be fatal to the claim. It gets even more complex when someone wants to file a claim after the expiry of the applicable limitation period. For example, if a person did not even know they had a claim until after the expiration of the limitation period, there are ways in which such a potential claimant could still be given the opportunity to file a suit. In such a case, moving as quickly as possible once discovering the fact that you have a claim is very important.

The bottom line is that this is an area of the law that is quite complex. I cannot stress enough the importance of retaining a qualified lawyer about any limitation issues you may have.


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