As many readers are aware, the Chief Justice of British Columbia suspended all regular Supreme Court operations on March 18, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the declaration of a state of emergency made by the British Columbia Government. The Chief Justice’s announcement was made contemporaneously with a notification from the BC Court of Appeal that all hearings and registry operations would be suspended until at least May 1, 2020.
The question that has been on the top of many lawyers minds in British Columbia has been what effect the ongoing measures will have on the running of limitation periods for the commencement of lawsuits or other procedural matters. That question was partially answered by ministerial order pronounced on March 26, 2020, made pursuant to the Emergency Program Act (BC).
The order itself is relatively short, being 3 paragraphs in length, and has the practical effect of suspending the operation of all limitation or other mandatory time period set out under any British Columbia law or enactment. The order takes effect on March 26 and will continue until the state of emergency declaration expires or is cancelled.
The basic time period for commencing a lawsuit in British Columbia under the Limitation Act (BC) is two years from the date of the event giving rise to the claim. While this applies to the majority of lawsuits in British Columbia that arose after June 1, 2013, there are many other limitation periods or mandatory time periods a lawyer must be conscious of with regard to the specific circumstances of her client’s case. For limitations periods that that would otherwise have expired on or after March 26, the clear effect of the order is that a failure to file a lawsuit (or other mandatory step) before the limitation date will not be fatal to the claim. What is less certain, however, is what will happen when the state of emergency expires or is cancelled. Will there be, for example, a transition period and how will limitations periods generally be calculated going forward?
Out of an abundance of caution and without further guidance the most prudent course of action for any lawsuit subject to a limitation period that otherwise would have expired while the order is in force is to be prepared to proceed immediately upon the expiry or cancellation of the state of emergency.
If you have any questions or feel that you have an urgent and essential matter, please contact our office.