Incapacity to Sue under section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002
The basic limitation period under section 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002 provides that a proceeding shall not be commenced in respect of a claim after the second anniversary of the day on which the claim was discovered. However, pursuant to section 7(1) of the Act, the “clock” does not run when the person with the claim,
(a) is incapable of commencing a proceeding in respect of the claim because of his or her physical, mental or psychological condition; and
(b) is not represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim.
A person is also presumed to be capable of commencing a proceeding in respect of a claim at all time unless the contrary is proved (section 7(2)), although minors are dealt with separately under section 6 of the Act.
The issue of the plaintiff’s capacity to commence a proceeding in respect of his claim was considered at length by the Court of Appeal in Carmichael v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc., 2020 ONCA 447. Carmichael is a tragic case involving the murder of the plaintiff’s 11 year old son. The plaintiff strangled his son to death in 2004 when he was suffering from mental illness and psychotic delusions. During this time, the plaintiff was also taking an anti-depressant that was manufactured by the defendant drug company. The plaintiff was charged with murder and he was found to be not criminally responsible as a result of his mental disorder. He later received an absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board on December 2, 2009. Nearly two years after that, the plaintiff commenced his claims against the drug company on October 5, 2011.
The defendant drug company brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim as statute barred. The motions judge dismissed the motion because he found that the plaintiff was incapable of commencing a proceeding because of his psychological condition until the day of his absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board. The Court of Appeal disagreed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the use of the Huang/Hengeveld indicators as a list of non-exhaustive, objectively verifiable indicators of incapacity under section 7(1)(a) of the Act (see paras. 94-96):
- a person’s ability to know or understand the minimum choices or decisions required to make them;
- an appreciation of the consequences and effects of his or her choices or decisions;
- an appreciation of the nature of the proceedings;
- a person’s ability to choose and keep counsel;
- a person’s ability to represent him or herself;
- a person’s ability to distinguish between the relevant and irrelevant issues; and,
- a person’s mistaken beliefs regarding the law or court procedures.
Moreover, the plaintiff’s physical, mental, or psychological condition must be the cause for the incapacity in order to meet section 7(1)(a). The incapacity cannot arise from other sources, such as lack of sophistication, education, or cultural differences (para. 101).
The Court of Appeal ultimately found that the plaintiff had the capacity to sue the defendant drug company prior to his absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board. The Court disagreed with the motions judge’s view of the plaintiff’s expert evidence. The plaintiff’s expert witness was criticized for never having prepared a capacity assessment before and for making conclusions that were unsupported by the evidence. Rather,
“The evidence shows that Mr. Carmichael had several reasons for not suing GSK before December 2, 2009: he did not believe he had the necessary expert evidence until he received the genetic test from Dr. Lucire in October 2009; he was worried about repercussions if the Hospital decided that he was not taking responsibility for his actions; and he was concerned for his own and his family’s well-being. These are understandable reasons for not commencing a lawsuit. But in my view, none of these reasons, alone or together, prove that Mr. Carmichael was incapable of suing GSK until December 2, 2009 because of his psychological condition.” (para. 163)
Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied last week.
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