The issue of applicable limitation periods vexes many litigants. In the fall of 2015, the Ontario Superior Court provided helpful commentary on the analysis of the limitation period applicable to motor vehicle accidents in the context of a summary judgment motion.
Background to the Case
Ontario’s Limitations Act creates a general two year limitation period for all claims that starts to run on the day the plaintiff discovered, or ought to have discovered, the claim (which includes injury, loss or damage).
In Munas v Yusuf, the plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident on August 20, 2009 and brought an action against the other drivers.1 One of the defendants, Vince Henderson, was the driver of a rental car. On October 22, 2012, two years after serving the initial claim and one year after the limitation period had expired, the plaintiff brought an unopposed motion to add Wasiu Yusuf, the lessee of Mr. Henderson’s car.
Out of Time: The Plaintiff’s Claim is Statute-Barred
Yusuf defended by pleading, among other things, that the limitation period barred the plaintiff’s claim. Yusuf then brought a summary judgment motion seeking to have the claim dismissed. The plaintiff argued that Yusuf was precluded from arguing a limitations defence since he did not oppose the motion adding him as a defendant. The Court disagreed. Had Yusuf raised the limitation defence on the motion, he may have been estopped from relying on it for summary judgment. Since, however, he did not raise the limitation issue, he was freely able to do so in his defence and pursuant to his summary judgment motion.
The plaintiff also argued that a limitation defence is always a triable issue and not appropriate on summary judgment. The Court disagreed finding that summary judgment motions are routinely granted in response to limitation defences. In this case, the court’s conclusion on discoverability turned on the fact that that the plaintiff conducted no due diligence to determine the lessee of the car.
Key Take-Away Principles
This case offers several key takeaways:
- A defendant who fails to oppose a motion to add them as a defendant after the expiry of a limitation period is not precluded from bringing a summary judgment motion to dismiss the claim against them on that basis.
- The success of a limitations defence depends significantly on the plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate due diligence. The plaintiff has to prove that he took reasonable steps to uncover the elements of the claim, including the proper parties involved; and
- Specifically for motor vehicle litigants, it is not enough to name the drivers of other vehicles involved. The plaintiff must ensure that they have accurately understood the relationship between the driver, the vehicle, and any other party (i.e. a lessee) connected to the vehicle.
Broadly speaking, cases involving limitations defences are becoming a category of cases that courts are quite comfortable dismissing via summary judgment motions. The Court’s comfort-level in granting summary judgment in this context should provide pause, not only for defendants in thinking through their litigation strategy, but also for plaintiffs. The Court in this case notes that it is entitled to assume both parties have put forward their best evidence on summary judgment - for the plaintiff, this means demonstrating to the Court that notwithstanding reasonable due diligence, the plaintiff could not have discovered the claim (or all of the people involved) until a later date.