COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of new technologies and strategies in the legal realm throughout Canada. Given the seriousness of the pandemic, public access to all courthouses in Alberta have become restricted as of March 30, 2020.
The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has recently established a new enhanced email filing system in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and maintain social distancing. This allows law firms to file materials remotely and avoid appearing in person at the courthouse. The Court is also encouraging the public to use drop boxes available at the courthouse to limit attendance inside the building.
The judicial system has also been called upon to implement measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and enable social distancing. Most courts, including the Court of Queen’s Bench, are only hearing in-person urgent or essential matters during this time period. Emergency matters include those “in which serious consequences to persons or harm to property may arise if the hearing does not proceed, or if there is risk of loss of jurisdiction or expiration of an existing protection or restraining order”. All other matters scheduled to be heard before May 22, 2020 are adjourned.
SUSPENSION OF LIMITATION PERIODS
Given the seriousness of the pandemic in this country, another preventative measure used in the judicial system is the suspension of limitation periods.
By Ministerial Order M.O. 27/2020, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer ordered that limitations periods and procedural rules that apply to almost 100 statutes in Alberta are suspended effective March 17 to June 1, 2020.
This Order will remain in effect, unless continued, at the earliest of the following:
- June 1, 2020;
- 60 days after the Provincial Order in Council declaring a state of public health emergency is terminated by the Lieutenant Governor; or
- Termination of the Order by the Minister or Lieutenant Governor in Council.
This Order suspends limitation periods contained in a number of statutes, including the Limitations Act. The Order is intended to eliminate the prejudice to parties that may result from failing to commence their lawsuit before the expiry of the limitation period under the Limitations Act.
WHAT ARE LIMITATION PERIODS?
Limitation periods are timeframes that confine when legal proceedings may commence. The primary purpose of limitation periods is to strike a balance between opposing interests of plaintiffs to pursue legitimate claims and defendants to be granted the peace of mind knowing that the risk of a lawsuit no longer exists and any right of action has run out.
Once a limitation period has expired, the right of action is “statute barred”. If an action is started outside of this period, it will likely be struck down by the court.
Limitation periods are a complicated and technical area of the law. Therefore, promptly receiving advice from an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer is of the utmost importance. Please contact the lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers as soon as possible regarding your situation so as not to jeopardize any opportunity to seek compensation.
LIMITATION PERIODS IN ALBERTA
Alberta’s Limitations Act provides guidance for limitation periods in Alberta.
Section 3(1)(a) of the Limitations Act sets out the “discovery rule” and specifies that claimants must file their claims within 2 years from the date they had or ought to have had the following knowledge:
- Discovery of the injury;
- Discovery that the injury was in some way attributable to the conduct of the defendant;
- Discovery that the nature of the injury was such that it justified bringing a proceeding.
Thus, the two-year clock begins running not necessarily when the claim arises, but when the claimant discovers it.
A longer limitation period is found at section 3(1)(b) and is often referred to as the “drop dead” clause. Under this clause, a claim must be started no later than 10 years from the occurrence that is the basis of the claim. This limitation period establishes an absolute limit on a claimant’s ability to begin legal proceedings. The purpose of this clause is to diminish problems associated with lost evidence, fading memories and to try to keep claims up to date.
There are a few exceptions to the rules regarding limitation periods. These include cases that involve a “continuous course of conduct or series of related acts or omissions”, persons under disability, minors under the age of 18, and lawsuits in cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence allegations.
RESPONSE TO COVID-19
As the province of Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, we will continue to follow the developments and update any changes in this blog.
In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding your personal injury or medical malpractice case please contact our office at 403-571-0555 or online. Our business remains open and we are operating at full capacity. The law firm of Cuming & Gillespie is committed to the health and safety of our community and is operating under the suggested social distancing guidelines recommended by the Canadian government and health professionals.
Choosing a personal injury lawyer to represent you or a loved one in your time of need is not a decision to be taken lightly. As a firm of lawyers who specialize in personal injury law and medical malpractice, the experienced lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers have a strong reputation in the community and in the legal profession.
At Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers, we strive to provide our clients with excellent legal services, and we offer a free consultation. Our personal injury lawyers are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding hiring a lawyer for your personal injury or medical malpractice case. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.