Limitation Period in Personal Injury Law

Though it is not the first thing that comes to mind in an emergency, a clock starts ticking on any potential legal claim for compensation as soon as a person is injured. Understanding the various Canadian statutes is crucial so that action can be taken in a timely manner. These statutes set up a legal framework of timelines and deadlines that can significantly affect your ability to receive compensation for injuries sustained.

What is the Ontario Statue of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims?

In Ontario, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is primarily, but not entirely, governed by the Limitations Act 2002. This act aims to ensure that claims are brought forth in a timely manner while simultaneously allowing the injured party enough time to fully investigate the extent of their loss and seek legal counsel if required. Likewise, potential defendants are deemed entitled to some peace of mind that after the expiration of enough time, they no longer must worry about any impending legal actions.       

Basic Time Limit

The Limitations Act sets out a basic limitation period of two years. In effect, this means that individuals who have been injured have two years from that date to start their legal claim. Sometimes, an injury is not easily discoverable. For example, it may not be immediately obvious that a blow to the head caused a concussion with serious long-term consequences. In such cases, the two-year limitation period runs from the date that it was discovered or from the date that the injured party reasonably ought to have known about the injury.

The Risks of Delaying Injury Claims

Delays are almost always not in the plaintiff’s best interest. The significant delay between the injury and the discovery of the injury leads to the possibility that an injury was caused by something else or an “intervening act.” For example, say a hockey player is injured in a motor vehicle accident by striking their head against the windshield but walks away seemingly fine. They play two full years of hockey and, upon going to a doctor, discover significant head trauma. It would be very difficult for this person to establish that the head trauma was caused by the motor vehicle accident and not his consistent engagement in a full-contact sport.

Exceptions and Special Circumstances

Even though the two-year limitation period is generally seen as a hard rule to break, there are exceptions and special circumstances which can extend the timeline:

  1. Minors. Suppose the injured party is a legal minor, defined as a person under the age of 18 at the time of the injury. In that case, the limitation starts once they reach the age of majority. In effect, if an injury occurred while they were under the age of 18, they have until their 20th birthday to pursue a personal injury claim.
  2. Incapacitated individuals. Suppose an individual is mentally or physically incapable of pursuing a claim on their own. In that case, the limitation period begins when they regain their capacity.
  3. Fraud or misrepresentation. Suppose the proposed defendant engages in fraud or misrepresentation to mislead the plaintiff. In that case, the limitation period begins to run from the time that the date that the fraud was discovered.

Taking immediate action

In personal injury cases, contact with a lawyer at the earliest possible stage is always the wisest course of action. Significant injury cases take time to “build.” Even though the actual claim may not be best started immediately, a lawyer will arrange for the proper medical assessments to reveal the extent of the injuries sustained immediately. Furthermore, physiotherapists are brought in to help in the rehabilitation process, financial records are examined in cases involving income loss, and supplementary payments may be arranged to help the injured party immediately. At the same time, they await the outcome of the civil case.

Importance of Immediate Legal Action for Maximizing Compensation

Failure to properly build a case may lead to a significant reduction in compensation. Take the above-noted example of the hockey player who injured their head in a motor vehicle collision. If they spoke to a lawyer immediately, a medical assessment and proper brain scans would be immediately arranged so that there is contemporaneous, conclusive evidence that the head injury was caused by the accident. This would likely result in significant compensation for the injured party. Suppose they wait to speak to a lawyer until two years later. In that case, it is unlikely that the head injury can be conclusively tied to the accident. The defendant would likely take a so-called “partial liability” stance and accordingly only be ordered to pay a portion of the compensatory damages.

While not strictly required, lawyers usually send a so-called “intent” letter to the potential defendant in an action for a number of technical legal reasons. This puts them on notice that an action is imminent and is important for calculating legal costs.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice and was written solely to provide information. If you would like to consult with a lawyer about the issues raised in this post, please contact Empel Law Professional Corporation at 416-500-1937.

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