Can an Estate be Sued 30 Years Later?
A baby in a swimming pool reaching for a $1 bill. Music lovers would instantly recognize this description as the album cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind.”
Until recently, Spencer Elden – the baby in question – embraced the fame that came with being on the cover of one of the most recognizable albums of all time. Elden even recreated the notorious photo several times over the last 30 years to mark the album’s 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. In those photos, Elden is wearing swimming trunks.
Earlier this week, Elden made headlines when the media learned that he was suing the parties involved for sexual exploitation. Elden argues that his parents never authorized the use of his photograph for the Nirvana album, and that the band used the image to promote their music at his expense. Elden is seeking $150,000.00 USD in damages from each of the 15 defendants, which include the photographer Kirk Weddle, the surviving band members, and Kurt Cobain’s Estate.
Elden’s lawsuit has many people wondering: can an Estate be sued 30 years after an incident took place?
In California, where Elden began his lawsuit, victims of sexual abuse crimes who were children at the time of the alleged incident have until their 40th birthday or 5 years from the date that they discovered their abuse to file a civil action.
What if this claim had been commenced in Ontario? On March 9, 2016, the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24 Sched. B was amended to remove all limitation periods for civil claims based on sexual assault. Therefore, assuming that a judge would find that Elden’s lawsuit can be properly classified as sexual abuse, Elden would be well-within his rights in bringing this claim.
However, if a judge ultimately found that Elden’s claim is not a civil claim based on sexual assault, different limitation periods would apply. Generally, the Limitations Act, 2002, provides an individual with two years from the date on which a claim is “discovered” to commence a claim before it is statute barred. However, individuals intending to commence a claim against someone who has died, such as Kurt Cobain, must also consider the much stricter limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T.23.
Section 38 of the Trustee Act imposes a strict two year limitation period from the date of death for any individual to commence a claim against a deceased individual in tort. This limitation period is much more strict, as it is not subject to the same “discoverability” principle as the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act. We have previously blogged about the limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act here.
It remains to be seen whether Elden will be successful in his claim. However, this case should serve as a reminder to Estate Trustees and solicitors that Estates may be held accountable for events that took place well before the Deceased’s death, depending on the nature of the claim.
Thank you for reading,