As Time Winds Down – An Overview of Limitations in Alberta Written By: Michael Geib, Associate How long do I have to sue? In most jurisdictions, including Alberta, lawsuits are subject to limitation deadlines. In Alberta the Limitations Act sets out the formula for determining how long someone has to sue. The Limitations Act also provides for some exceptions to the limitations rules, and it notes other pieces of legislation that can impact time limits for brining claims. The Limitation Formula A simple way to remember the formula for most limitations in Alberta is the 2/10 rule which is derived from section 3 of the Limitations Act. The 2 represents two years and applies to the basic limitation deadline while the 10 represents ten years and applies to the ultimate limitation deadline. Basic Limitation Deadline If a claimant does not seek a remedial order (which includes a lawsuit) within two years from the date the claimant knew or ought to have known that: 1) they suffered an injury (harm); 2) the injury (harm) was caused by the conduct of the defendant; and 3) the injury (harm) warrants bringing a legal proceeding, then the defendant can rely on the Limitations Act to provide a complete defence to the claim brought against it. Ultimate Limitation Deadline If a claimant does not seek a remedial order (which includes a lawsuit) within 10 years from the date the claim arose, then the Defendant can rely on the Limitations Act to provide a complete defence to the claim brought against it. Applying the 2/10 Rule There are several important consequences that stem from limitation deadlines. The most important consequence is that a failure to bring a claim within the relevant limitation period means it is unlikely the claim can proceed. It is also worth noting that there is specific language in the basic limitation period that can cause a potential plaintiff to have less time than anticipated to bring a lawsuit. Specifically, the knew or ought to have known language in the basic limitation period requires a claimant to bring an action within 2 years of discovery of the claim OR within 2 years from the date they should have known about the claim. Sometimes the date a claim arises is obvious – for example in a motor vehicle collision the date of the Collision is usually going to be the start date for calculating the limitation deadline. In other words, the ‘limitation clock’ starts running the day of the accident and terminates two years from that date. However, sometimes it will be less obvious when a claim arises, and the limitation clock can start running before the potential plaintiff realizes. For example, if a builder was obligated to install a particular type of window but the builder failed to install the specific window, and the claimant should have realized wrong window was installed, then the date the claimant should have realized wrong window was installed is the date of limitation period starts running. When such situations arise the Court will ask some version of the question: when would a reasonable individual in a similar situation have realized the potential for a claim? In the case of Gayton v Lacasse Alberta’s highest Court provided some clarity to help understand when a claimant should have known about the injury. The Alberta Court of Appeal said that the three factors listed in the subsection giving us the basic limitation period (date of the injury (damage), causality, and appropriateness of the action) must all be considered in determining when someone should have known about their claim. With respect to the ultimate limitation period, the potential claimant has 10 years to bring a claim from the date the claim arose. For example, if a designer provided for an inappropriate foundation for the structure and then years later an issue with the foundation comes to the attention of the building owner the claim may be barred if more than 10 years has elapsed since the design was provided. Limitations – Further Discussion The limitation defence is just that – a defence. If a defendant is named in a claim where the defendant believes the claim is out of time the defendant can raise the Limitations Act as a defence, and if successful, the entire claim is struck. It should be noted that there are some exceptions to the limitations rules. Fraud is an exception – where a defendant conceals or hides the fact there was an injury the limitation period can be suspended. Adults under disability are another exception – the limitation period can be suspended where an adult is under a disability that prevents them from making decisions about their legal matter; for example, if an individual is in a coma. Claims involving minors’ are also exceptions – the limitation clock does not start until the minor reaches the age of majority, unless a potential defendant serves the minor’s legal guardian with a document called a Notice to Proceed. Cases involving alleged sexual assault are another class of exceptions. There are also exceptions resulting in shorter limitation time periods. The most obvious example involves claims against municipalities. There are multiple sections of the Municipal Government Act that provide for shorter limitations, or require notice to the municipality within a relatively short time frame in order for a claim to proceed. Summary This article has provided a general overview answering the question how long do I have to sue? Limitations are a tricky area of law but the consequences for potential litigants can be significant. Individuals should seek out the advice of a lawyer when dealing with potential limitations issues, and individuals with potential claims should move to deal with them as soon as possible. Disclaimer: This article is to be used for educational and non-commercial purposes only. Parlee McLaws LLP does not intend for this article to be a source of legal advice. Please seek the advice of a lawyer before choosing to act on any of the information contained in this article.