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May 25, 2011

Revival of the Special Circumstances Doctrine?

Has the special circumstances doctrine been revived for limitation periods? We thought the Courts have been clear that under the new statute of limitations there is no exception for special circumstances. However, Wood J. recently held that special circumstances applied and granted an extension of time. In the case the plaintiff was trying to add defendants who were already third and fourth parties. Perhaps the exception will apply then only to when third and fourth parties are being added as defendants?

The case of Chodowski v. Huntsville Professional Building Inc., [2010] O.J. No. 3773, looks at the issue of joining parties after limitation periods have expired. In Chodowski, the motion is the result of plaintiff’s counsel, who had brought a timely motion seeking leave to join the third and fourth parties as defendants. It was not until the newly retained plaintiff’s counsel set the matter down for trial, that the omission was realized.
Justice T.M. Wood held that the test to be applied is a two part one in which the moving party must first satisfy the court that “no prejudice would result that cannot be compensated for by costs or an adjournment”. The second part, having been developed through the case law, requires that where a limitation period has expired, the moving party must demonstrate “special circumstances” which would justify extending the limitation period.

Justice Wood wrote that:

[I]t must be remembered that both defendants have been aware of their exposure since the day after the incident. Both were aware of the order allowing them to be joined as defendants in the main action, and both participated fully in discoveries as third and fourth parties.

The Judge found that plaintiff’s counsel’s prompt move for leave to amend, and the fact that plaintiff’s first counsel was a generalist “whose practice was not attuned to the requirements of tort litigation”, lends credibility to the argument that this was a sin of omission rather than commission.

The Court found that the failure to join the defendants in a timely fashion was fully explained.

Wood J. held that: The conduct of the proceedings as a whole and the nature of the mistake in that context are in my view special circumstances sufficient when coupled with the lack of real prejudice to the defendants, to justify an extension of time to issue and serve a new statement of claim on the defendant number company and Mid-North to March 1, 2010, the date of service.

Thanks to Alex Lacko for reviewing this case.

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