Time Limits to Sue in Ontario

Deciding whether to sue someone is a big decision.  Not only is litigation an expensive, time-consuming process, but it can also damage important relationships. It often takes time to decide whether it is really worth it to sue another person or entity.

But how much time do you actually have to decide whether to sue in the province of Ontario?

The answer to that question varies from case to case.

The basic limitation period in Ontario is 2 years, meaning a claimant has 2 years to start a lawsuit. However, that 2-year limitation period does not begin running immediately once a claimant suffers harm. Rather, the basic limitation period only begins to run once the claimant discovers four things:

  • First, that he or she has suffered harm, such as an injury, loss, or damage;
  • Second, that the harm suffered was the result of an act or omission;
  • Third, that a third party or parties are responsible for the act or omission that caused the harm; and
  • Fourth, that it would be appropriate to commence proceedings to remedy the harm.

Alternatively, the basic limitation period will begin running once a reasonable person in the claimant’s place would have realized these four things.

However, a claimant does not have an unlimited amount of time to make these four discoveries. In addition to a basic limitation period, the province of Ontario also has an ultimate limitation period. Under the Limitations Act, 2002, a claimant only has 15 years from the date of the initial incident to file a lawsuit. After those 15 years have passed, technically it is no longer possible to recover damages for a loss, no matter when the claimant discovered that a lawsuit is warranted.

If you have any questions about whether or not you still have time to file a lawsuit, it pays to consult a lawyer. There can be exceptions to both the basic and ultimate limitation periods.

For example, neither limitation period will run immediately after a child under the age of 18 suffers harm. The limitation periods will not operate until that child turns 18 and reaches the age of majority unless a litigation guardian is appointed for the child to pursue a lawsuit.

Another exception applies if a claimant is incapable of commencing litigation due to a “physical, mental or psychological condition.” However, the law presumes that all adults are capable of commencing proceedings, so if a lawsuit is filed after the basic or ultimate limitation period has expired, the claimant will have to prove that he or she was incapable of starting the proceedings sooner.

There is also an exception if a would-be defendant tricks a claimant. If a claimant does not realize that he or she suffered harm, or that any harm suffered was due to the defendant’s conduct, a claimant may be able to commence a lawsuit after the ultimate 15-year limitation period has expired.  The Limitations Act, 2002 states that if a potential defendant willfully conceals such information from a claimant, or wilfully misleads the claimant so that he or she concludes that it would not be appropriate to commence proceedings, the 15-year limitation period will not run during that time.

While the basic limitation period and ultimate limitation period apply to most Ontario lawsuits, they do not apply to every type of litigation. Some pieces of legislation set out different limitation periods, making it a good idea to consult with a lawyer about what limitation period may apply to your case.

This is the first part of our three-part series. Check our second part  and third part of this three-part series.

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