Someone who’s been wronged usually has a limited time in which to seek justice through the courts of law. That time period is called a limitation period. After it’s passed, there’s usually little the courts can do to help, however horribly the person has been wronged, however badly they’re injured. Many legitimate claims are denied every year for being filed too late. It sounds harsh, but limitation periods let people or organizations know when they can stop hanging onto evidence they might need in order to defend themselves at trial. It also means an injured party cannot procrastinate in seeking justice.
Common notice and limitation periods
The first ticking clock is often a notice period that requires anyone filing a disability or accident insurance claim to give written notice within a month or so of being injured/disabled. E.g. anyone who is involved in a motor vehicle accident and wants accident benefits must give ICBC written notice of the claim within 30 days, and fill out a proof of claim within 90 days. Anyone involved in an incident for which the municipality might be responsible must give notice within 2 months. Missing such deadlines may mean the insurer or municipality refuses to pay AND it may bar bringing a lawsuit to force them to pay.
Once notice requirements are met, the next place to look is the Limitation Act, the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, and the Insurance Act, all of which are provincial statutes which set out the limitation periods for most lawsuits. A claimant has 2 years from the date of an accident (e.g. a motor vehicle accident or medical negligence) to sue. But to sue a municipality (e.g. a slip and fall) a person has only 6 months. With disability insurance, a person generally has two years from when the benefits should have been paid.
In 2012, the BC government updated the Limitation Act to subject almost all civil claims to a two year limitation period. Section 6, which is the main limitation clause says:
6(1) Subject to this Act, a court proceeding in respect of a claim must not be commenced more than 2 years after the day on which the claim is discovered.
The question of when a claim should be discovered is answered in section 8, which says:
8 … a claim is discovered by a person on the first day on which the person knew or reasonably ought to have known all of the following:
(a) that injury, loss or damage had occurred;
(b) that the injury, loss or damage was caused by or contributed to by an act or omission;
(c) that the act or omission was that of the person against whom the claim is or may be made;
(d) that, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, a court proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy the injury, loss or damage.
Can there be extensions?
There are two categories of claimants that are given special treatment under the Limitation Act.
The claimant is a minor – if the injured person is under 19 years of age, the limitation period doesn`t start running until he/she turns 19, unless the potential defendant has delivered a notice to proceed, which requires the minor to proceed regardless.
The claimant is under a disability – if the injured person is an adult who is incapable of managing their affairs, the limitation period will be delayed until they cease to have a disability, unless the potential defendant delivers a notice to proceed, which requires the incapable person to proceed regardless.
A claim may also be extended if the defendant acknowledges in writing that he/she is liable to pay a claim, in which case the clock starts ticking from the date liability has been acknowledged. There are various requirements that must be met for this extension to be triggered.
The revised Limitation Act sets out an ultimate limitation period of 15 years after the day on which the act or omission on which the claim is based took place.
Because limitation periods have such a serious impact on a person’s ability to seek justice, there will no doubt be further arguments and challenges in this area. But the need to give notice or file a claim in a timely manner won’t go away. For a person to preserve their enormous power to seek redress for wrongs and losses, they must, literally, “use it or lose it.”
Excerpt from “ACCESS TO JUSTICE: Legal issues for the injured and people with disabilities,” written and produced by Faith Hayman, Barrister and Solicitor.
This is for informational purposes only and its contents are not intended nor should be considered to be legal advice.
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