There are laws that limit your ability to commence a successful lawsuit for injury, loss, or damage after a certain amount of time has elapsed. These are known as limitation periods. They exist because as more time passes, the court’s ability to rule on a claim can be impeded by their ability to call experts or examine relevant evidence.
Limitation periods differ based on the scenario, which is why it’s important to consult a legal team you trust as soon as possible.
Here is a primer on Ontario’s laws and how they might apply to you.
Basic Limitation Periods
Ontario’s limitation periods are set out in the Limitations Act, 2002. The “Basic Limitation Period” stipulates that, unless another part of the act applies, a claim cannot be brought forth more two years to the day on which a claim “was discovered.”
The act defines discovery as the day on which the claimant first knew, or on which a reasonable person ought to have known:
(i) that the injury, loss or damage had occurred,
(ii) that the injury, loss or damage was caused by or contributed to by an act or omission,
(iii) that the act or omission was that of the person against whom the claim is made, and
(iv) that, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it
Whichever of these occurred first typically counts as the date of discovery. If the claimant didn’t become aware of the potential for a claim until later on, the onus will be on them to demonstrate why.
For example, if you file a claim against a contractor for a faulty repair job, the deficiencies of their work may not be evident for weeks or months after their work is complete, rather, as the law might seem to suggest, on the day they finished. If you can successfully demonstrate this when you bring forth a claim, the court may retroactively adjust the start date of the limitation period. But in some cases a court may rule that you should have been aware of the deficiencies sooner.
It’s important to speak to a lawyer as soon as you become aware of an issue to help you navigate these timelines.
In Ontario, there are four important exceptions to this basic limitation period.
1. Minors & Incapacitated Parties
If the claimant is someone under the age of 18, the limitation period does not begin until they reach the age of the majority (i.e. their 18th birthday). The limitation period may also be adjusted for those who are not capable of beginning legal proceedings, including those physically, psychologically, or mentally incapacitated without the representation of a legal guardian.
According to Ontario’s Municipal Act, those bringing a claim against a city — for example, as a result of negligence maintaining a public sidewalk, road, bridge, etc. — the claimant has just 10 days to provide notice of intent to file a claim.
3. Slip and falls
The province’s Occupier’s Liability Act indicates that claimants must provide notice within 60 days of an injury.
In some cases, two parties in a contract may agree to pause the limitation period as they attempt to reach a settlement and avoid litigation, which may take more time than the limitation period allows. In other cases, the parties may also agree to restrict the limitation period.
There was also a temporary pause placed on all limitation periods during the pandemic, between March and September of 2020. All limitation periods that occurred during those six months had an additional 26 weeks added to them.
Ultimate Limitation Periods
Because of the variability in the date on which claims may be discovered, the province has set an ultimate limitation period of 15 years. Meaning, even if a claim is only first discovered more than 15 years to the day after the event which lead to it, it cannot be brought before a court.
Have more questions about limitation periods? Contact our talented team of legal representatives today for a free consultation.