Starting the Clock on Applicable Limitation Periods
As lawyers well know, all lawsuits must be instituted within the applicable limitation period as a first hurdle to successful litigation. While the time periods within which one must start a claim are clear in the Limitations Act and in other legislation, the time from which those periods start to run is not always so clear and may be a matter for a judge to decide.
In Zurba v. Lakeridge Health Corp. (2010), 99 O.R. (3d) 596 (ON SCJ), the plaintiff fractured his ankle in a way that exposed his bone and internal tissues to grass and dirt in August of 2003. The doctor who initially treated the plaintiff cleaned and dressed the wound with a cast instead of proceeding with the necessary surgery. Significant ongoing infection at the fracture site later caused another doctor to suggest amputation. The plaintiff refused and after lengthy course of surgeries and therapy with no improvement, the plaintiff retained counsel and initiated the law suit. The plaintiff subsequently received an expert medical opinion from an orthopaedic expert that the treating doctor’s care was negligent.
The Ontario Superior Court considered the Limitations Act, 2002 and its applicability with respect to the discoverability of the cause of action. Lauwers, J. found that a plaintiff must not only know of the injury but must also know that someone erred before the cause of action crystallizes and the limitation period commences running.
The Court went on to establish two categories of cases: 1) Where an expert opinion is not necessary to know whether to institute an action because all the material facts are known; and 2) where an expert opinion is required to trigger the limitation period because all material facts cannot be known without one. In Zurba, notwithstanding that the statement of claim was issued before the expert medical report was obtained, the Court found that it could consider the report with respect to discoverability in order to determine when the limitation period began to run.
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