Can you add a Party to a Lawsuit After the Limitation Period Expires?


Often times as a lawsuit progresses a Plaintiff learns of new allegations that could be made or new parties who may be responsible.  Lawsuits can take time to get to trial and often when these new revelations are made the limitation period to sue the new party has already expired.  When this happens can the party be added to the existing lawsuit?  The answer is yes, however, the Court’s permission must be granted to do so.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement providing a detailed overview of this area of law.
In today’s case (Chouinard v. O’Connor) the Plaintiff was injured in an altercation that took place during a lacrosse game.  He sued his alleged assailant and a variety of others alleging battery.  As the lawsuit progressed the Plaintiff wished to amend the claim to add allegations of negligence.  By the time this happened the limitation period to sue in negligence had expired.  The Plaintiff applied to Court to allow an amendment to the lawsuit but this was denied.  The Plaintiff appealed but was also unsuccessful.  In dismissing the matter the BC Court of Appeal provided the following useful legal overview addressing factors a Court should consider in allowing amendments to a claim after a limitation period has expired:

[17] This Court has considered the proper approach to amendments to pleadings after the expiry of a limitation period on numerous occasions.  The issue has arisen frequently under both former Rule 15(5)(a)(iii) (now replaced by Rule 6-2(7)), where a plaintiff wished to add a party after the expiry of the limitation period, and under former Rule 24(1) (now replaced by Rule 6-1(1)) where a plaintiff sought to plead a new cause of action against an existing defendant after the expiry of the limitation period for bringing the cause of action.

[18] In Teal Cedar Products (1977) Ltd. v. Dale Intermediaries Ltd. (1996), 19 B.C.L.R. (3d) 282, 34 C.C.L.I. (2d) 211, this Court determined that the Supreme Court has broad discretion to allow or disallow an amendment, holding that the overriding test is whether it is “just and convenient” to allow the amendment.  Finch J.A. (as he then was), with the concurrence of Ryan J.A., stated:

[36]      This application was brought … under Rule 24(1) which permits a party to amend pleadings at any time, with leave of the court.  The rule is discretionary and contains no criteria for the exercise of that discretion.

[37]      The rule most often involved in questions arising under the Limitation Act is Rule 15(5)(a)(iii). It is invoked on applications to add parties. Rule 15(5)(a)(iii) says that the court may order a person to be added as a party where there exists a question which, in the opinion of the court, would be “just and convenient” to determine as between a party and the person sought to be added. The qualifying phrase “just and convenient” is not to be found in Rule 24(1).

[38]      Discretionary powers are, of course, always to be exercised judicially. It would clearly be unjudicial to permit an amendment to pleadings under Rule 24(1) if it appeared to be either unjust or inconvenient to do so. So, even though the words “just and convenient” are not found in Rule 24, justice and convenience would, in my view, be relevant criteria for the exercise of the discretion found in that rule.

[45]      [T]he discretion to permit amendments afforded by … Rule 24(1) … was intended to be completely unfettered and subject only to the general rule that all such discretion is to be exercised judicially, in accordance with the evidence adduced and such guidelines as may appear from the authorities.  Delay, and the reasons for delay, are among the relevant considerations, and the judge should consider any explanation put forward to account for the delay. But no one factor should be accorded overriding importance, in the absence of a clear evidentiary basis for doing so.

[67]      In the exercise of a judge’s discretion, the length of delay, the reasons for delay and the expiry of the limitation period are all factors to be considered, but none of those factors should be considered in isolation. Regard must also be had for the presence or absence of prejudice, and the extent of the connection, if any, between the existing claims and the proposed new cause of action. Nor do I think that a plaintiff’s explanation for delay must necessarily exculpate him from all “fault” or “culpability” before the court may exercise its discretion in his favour….

[19] The concurring reasons of McEachern C.J.B.C. (Ryan J.A. also concurring) were to similar effect:

[74]      Applying the same principles regardless of whether the application is to add new defendants … or new causes of action, … I believe the most important considerations, not necessarily in the following order, are the length of the delay, prejudice to the respondents, and the overriding question of what is just and convenient.

[20] In Letvad v. Fenwick, 2000 BCCA 630, 82 B.C.L.R. (3d) 296, Esson J.A. for the Court cited from Teal Cedar, and then said:

[29]      My understanding of the phrase “completely unfettered” in this context is that the discretion is not fettered by the relevant legislation, i.e., the Rule and the Limitation Act.  It is, however, fettered to the extent that, as was held in Teal, it must be exercised judicially, in accordance with the evidence adduced and such guidelines as may appear from the authorities.  It was held inTeal that the guidelines to which the chambers judge is required to have regard include these:

– the extent of the delay;

– the reasons for the delay;

– any explanation put forward to account for the delay;

– the degree of prejudice caused by delay; and

– the extent of the connection, if any, between the existing claims and the proposed new cause of action.

[21] As can be seen from the chambers judgment in the case before us, this list of factors has come to be seen as a checklist in applications to add a cause of action or a party after the expiry of the limitation period.  It is sometimes forgotten that the list of factors is not an exhaustive one, and that the overriding concern is whether the proposed amendment will be “just and convenient”.  The factors listed in Teal Cedar and in Letvad will typically be important factors to be considered by a chambers judge, but the decision is ultimately a discretionary one.  Thus in Boutsakis & Kakavelakis, A Partnership v. Boutsakis, 2008 BCCA 13, 77 B.C.L.R. (4th) 113, this Court upheld the granting of amendments even though not all of the Teal factors had been specifically referred to in the judgment of the chambers judge.  Newbury J.A., speaking for the Court, said:

[21]      … [I]t seems to me that although the summary trial judge did not mention the authorities, she did consider many of the factors listed in Teal Cedar – the reasons for the plaintiffs’ delay, the question of prejudice to the appellants; Mr. Kakavelakis’ difficulty in obtaining Mr. Boutsakis’ cooperation in enforcing the Partnership’s rights against Crown Travel; and the overall context of the two actions generally.  Given the high degree of deference that is to be accorded to a discretionary decision of this kind, I see no basis on which this court should interfere with her conclusion that both amendments to the Statement of Claim in the “F” action should be permitted and given effect to notwithstanding that between the issuance of the writ in 1989 and the 1997 and 2004 motions to amend, fresh causes of action advanced by those amendments would have become barred by the lapse of time.

Adding a Party to a lawsuit, amending a notice of claim, bc injury law, Chouinard v. O'Conner, Limitation Periods, Rule 6, Rule 6-1, Rule 6-1(1), Rule 6-2, Rule 6-2(7)

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ERIK
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Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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