How to Deal with the Two-Year Limitation Period under Section 38(3) of the Trustee Act
Section 38 of the Trustee Act, except in cases of libel and slander, permits estate trustees to commence actions, on the deceased’s behalf, for all torts or injuries to the person or to the property of the deceased, and vice versa for those seeking to commence actions with respect to a wrong committed by a deceased person, so long as those claims are brought within two years of the deceased’s death.
The discoverability principles under the Limitations Act, 2002 are not applicable to toll the two-year limitation period under section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The application of this strict two-year limitation period is only mitigated by common law principles such as the doctrine of fraudulent concealment: Giroux Estate v. Trillium Health Centre, 2005 CanLII 1488 (ONCA), Bikur Cholim Jewish Volunteer Services v. Penna Estate, 2009 ONCA 196, and Levesque v. Crampton Estate, 2017 ONCA 455.
Recently, the Court of Appeal has considered limitations defences in three of its estates decisions so far in 2021. One of them was the case of Zachariadis Estate v. Giannopoulos, 2021 ONCA 158, which I blogged about the other day. The other two cases were Beaudoin Estate v. Campbellford Memorial Hospital, 2021 ONCA 57, and Hayward v. Hayward, 2021 ONCA 175.
The Beaudoin Estate is a medical malpractice claim by the Beaudoin Estate and the deceased’s wife, daughter, grandchildren as claimants under the Family Law Act. The claimants alleged that the deceased was negligently diagnosed and treated when he was brought to the hospital’s emergency department which led to a delay in surgery that could have saved his life. Mr. Beaudoin died on January 9, 2015 and the action as commenced on April 27, 2017 by way of a statement of claim. The defendants asserted amongst other things in their statement of defence that the plaintiffs were statue barred pursuant to section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The plaintiffs then alleged that the hospital had fraudulently concealed their cause of action by failing to provide them with the deceased’s complete medical records when they were requested from the hospital, particularly certain CT imaging that was not provided to them until May, 2017.
The hospital then brought a rule 21.01(1)(a) motion to determine an issue of law raised by the pleadings so as to dispose of the action without trial. It is important to note that, unlike a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20, no evidence is admissible on a motion under r. 21.01(1)(a), except with leave of a judge or on consent of the parties: r. 21.01(2)(a).
The Court of Appeal found that the motion judge erred in deciding the question of fraudulent concealment as a question of law under r. 21.01(2)(a). Motions under r. 21.01(1)(a) are not the proper procedural vehicle for weighing evidence or making findings of fact (para. 30). Similar to limitations issues under the Limitations Act, 2002 and the factual dispute surrounding the discovery of a claim, factual disputes surrounding the fraudulent concealment of a cause of action are more properly determined under a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20. To do so would be unfair to a plaintiff when no evidence is admissible on such a motion except with leave of the court or on consent (para. 34).
In Hayward v. Hayward, the appellants raised as a ground of appeal that the trial judge erred by failing to find that the applicants were statute bared. The Court of Appeal dismissed this ground of appeal on the basis that the defence was not raised by counsel regardless of the fact that the application did not have full pleadings like an action would. The trial judge cannot be criticized for failing to respond to a defence that was not raised by counsel (para. 7).
Thanks for reading!