Don’t delay seeking legal help. In a true case, Mary (not her real name) was hurt quite badly in a car crash. She was probably entitled to get financial compensation. But she waited too long to see a lawyer. When she finally walked in to a lawyer’s office, it was two years less one day since the accident. Unfortunately, the lawyer was out of town. And the deadline for starting a lawsuit for personal injuries from an accident like this is two years. The lawyer’s legal assistant doubts if another lawyer was able to help Mary.

A new law in B.C. also just came in on June 1, 2013 which shortens many deadlines

The new law puts in place a new “basic limitation period.” That new period is two years from the time you discovered – or should have discovered – that something happened for which you can sue and know who to go after in court. You must start your law suit against that person or party within these two years. If you don’t, you lose the right to ever bring that lawsuit – your claim will be “barred,” as though you were stopped dead in your tracks at a railway crossing by a bar dropping down in front of you.

For example, say that Jane becomes tired of waiting to be repaid by Joe, who owes her money. If the debt became due on or after June 1, she’ll have only two years after the due date to go to court. That’s because she knew, or should have discovered, that the debt wasn’t repaid on the due date, that it was Joe who stiffed her (defaulted on the debt), and that she could go to court to recover the debt. The old deadline for suing for breach of contract was six years after the debt should have been repaid.

The  new law also puts in place a 15-year “ultimate” limitation period to start a lawsuit for a civil wrong – even if that wrong isn’t discovered in those 15 years (the old limitation was 30 years).

There are good reasons for the changes, which brings the B.C. law more in line with Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, all of which recently updated their law on this.

Oodles of exceptions and special rules under the new law take into account special situations, e.g., to protect minors or mentally incompetent people, who may need longer to see their rights protected.

But here’s the key to all this. There are many other specific laws in B.C. with their own, often shorter time periods to start a claim or lose out forever. It takes time to sit down with your lawyer, explain the situation to her and have her digest your information, research the law (including what limitation period applies) and prepare and file the court documents necessary to start the lawsuit. And of course, she may be tied up on other lawsuits, have previous pressing commitments, or be away on business or holidays.

So seek legal help as soon as you reasonably can if you have a legal situation that may require you to go to court to protect your rights – you don’t want the limitation period to defeat you, without ever setting a foot in the court room.

Written by Janice and George Mucalov, LL.B.s with contribution by COBBETT & COTTON. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please contact COBBETT & COTTON for legal advice concerning your particular case. Names of the parties in reported cases have been changed or removed to protect their identity. Lawyer Janice Mucalov is an award-winning legal writer. “You and the Law” is a registered trade-mark. ©Janice and George Mucalov.

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