Do Rules of Court and Limitation Periods Still Apply During COVID-19?

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Many of you who are involved in an existing litigation may wonder about the effect of COVID-19 on the court system of British Columbia. The Supreme Court of British Columbia issued a Notice to the Profession on March 18, 2020 (the “Notice”). Under the Notice, all civil and family matters scheduled for hearing between March 19, 2020 and May 1, 2020 are adjourned, unless directed otherwise by the Court. This automatic adjournment extends to all trials, conferences and chambers applications or other hearings currently scheduled for hearing before May 1, 2020.

What if you do not have a court application scheduled, but you were just served with the opposing side’s application materials? Do you have to file your response materials before the deadline set out in the application? These questions are also addressed in the Notice. Effective immediately, the filing deadlines under the Supreme Court Civil Rules and the Supreme Court Family Rules (the “Rules of Court”) are suspended until May 1, 2020. This means parties to an existing litigation no longer need to meet the various deadlines set out in the Rules of Court until May 1, 2020. For instance, under the Rules of Court, if you are served with a Notice of Civil Claim anywhere in Canada, then you will have 21 days to file a Response to Civil Claim. If you fail to file a Response by the deadline, then the plaintiff may proceed to obtain a default judgment against you. Under the Notice, if you are served with a Notice of Civil Claim on March 2, 2020, then you do not have to file a Response by March 23, 2020.

However, other statutory filing deadlines and limitation periods continue to apply in British Columbia as at the date of this article. By an Order in Council dated March 20, 2020, Ontario has suspended limitation periods until the COVID-19 emergency has waned. Both the Law Society of British Columbia and the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch have been in communication with British Columbia government urging the province to also suspend all statutory limitation dates for the duration of the state of emergency.

Under British Columbia’s Limitation Act, there is a two year limitation period for most civil claims, such as those involving personal injury, debt, breach of contract, etc. The claiming party must commence a legal action within two years from the date that the claiming party knew, or should reasonably have known, that he or she had a claim. Exceptions to the two year limitation period include claims that are governed by limitation periods set out in other statutes. For instance, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act provides that a wills variation claim must be brought within 180 days from the date the grant of probate is issued. If the claiming party does not commence the claim within the statutory limitation period, then the claim may be statute-barred. These statutory limitation periods continue to apply at this time.  The Notice provides that once the Court resumes regular operations, parties may request an extension of time for deadlines set out in other statutes, which the Court will determine on a case-by-case basis.

Although the Court may grant relief on a case-by-case basis, there is no guarantee that the Court will grant relief in any particular case. In addition, legal costs will be incurred to seek such a relief. As such, if you are contemplating a claim, it is advisable that you seek legal advice. It may be more cost effective to commence the action within the limitation period as most legal professionals are equipped to file online to the Court registry.

We are watching closely for any announcement from the provincial government regarding the limitation periods and will provide further updates as this matter progresses.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact the writer if you have any further questions or concerns.