Covid-19 Makes Suing Challenging

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By Neela Ramsundar

THE Covid-19 crisis in Trinidad and Tobago began with our first case being recorded on March 12, 2020.

Shortly thereafter, life more or less grounded to a halt. Everyone who wished to file a new lawsuit were caught in this net. In order to protect its staff and the public, the judiciary only allowed new matters to be filed – if they were considered urgent.

Lawyers were concerned that this restriction would be detrimental to some of their clients as some matters could become statute barred. What does statute barred mean? I explain below…

We have a law called the Limitations of Certain Actions Act, Chapter 7:09 which sets out a time limit to file lawsuits that are based on the law of contract or tort.

Examples would be you suing for breach of a contract where your customer failed to pay for goods within 30 days of receiving them or you suing a driver who negligently damaged your car in a road accident.

Section 3(1) of that law implements a four-year time limit to sue, starting from the day that your right to sue arose.

This law is primarily based on the principle that the element of risk or exposure to being sued by another should have a fixed and certain end date.

Using the car accident example, if the collision occurred on April 2, 2016 and other driver refused to settle the matter out of court, your lawyer would need to sue by the April 1, 2020. If you don’t meet that deadline, you would lose the right to receive compensation for your damaged car. Your matter would become statute barred.

The problem was that the Covid-19 made the issue of suing somewhat challenging.

On the one hand, even though legal services were considered essential, many lawyers implemented their own restrictions to protect themselves, their family, their staff and the public from Covid-19.

Many lawyers had shut down their offices or tried to work remotely from home. Meetings with new clients became a limited activity. Public access to lawyers of choice became an issue.

On the other hand, with all the preoccupation trying to safeguard themselves and their families from Covid-19, some clients didn’t even think about consulting with an attorney about if and when a matter of theirs would become statute barred.

Happily, the Attorney General passed a law which served to automatically extend the time you have to sue, if your matter would have become statute barred during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

This law can be found under section 6 of the Miscellaneous Amendments Act, No 10 of 2020 as extended by Legal Notice No 96 of 2020 (called The Limitation of Certain Actions (Extension of Period) Order, 2020).

Basically, in calculating the four-year time limit to when your matter becomes statute barred, the period March 27, 2020 to June 30, 2020 is not to be included in this calculation. Using the above car accident scenario which would have become statute barred on April 1, 2020, with this new law, it is now possible to sue by July 1, 2020.

Now is a good time to check with your lawyer on those statute barred dates. With this new law, you may just be in luck to have that extra time you need to file your lawsuit!

Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.


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