The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted just about every area of life. In addition to taxing the health system and creating financial difficulties for people and businesses around the country, the health crisis has also had a widespread effect on cases in both the civil and criminal justice systems.
If you have a pending personal injury case or have been injured and are contemplating filing a claim, you may be wondering how the pandemic could affect your case. One area of concern among many people is how the virus and quarantine orders could affect the statute of limitations in civil cases.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a time limit or deadline for filing a case. There are statutes of limitations in both the civil and criminal justice systems. In the criminal system, for example, the statute of limitations is a time limit for a prosecutor to bring criminal charges against someone.
This stops people from being prosecuted for crimes years or even decades after the alleged crime took place. For example, if someone stole a loaf of bread from a convenience store 30 years ago, the chances of any evidence being preserved that long is quite slim. It’s also a waste of judicial resources to prosecute someone for a theft that happened three decades ago when there are many other current cases that demand justice.
However, there are some crimes that don’t have a statute of limitations. For example, in New York and other states, certain sexual offenses don’t have a statute of limitations.
There are also statutes of limitations in the civil system. As with criminal cases, there is a concern that waiting too long to bring a claim could make it difficult for a defendant to gather the evidence they need to support their defense. For example, if someone breached a contract 40 years ago, it’s unlikely they will be able to produce the evidence and witnesses they need to defend their side of the case.
How Does the Coronavirus Impact Statutes of Limitations?
Quarantine orders in the majority of states, including New York, and social distancing guidelines have made it extremely difficult for courts to stay open. Some courts are continuing to operate remotely with virtual hearings and conferences, but it’s not possible to do certain court procedures this way.
If you have a personal injury case pending or you were injured and want to file a claim, you probably want to know how the pause in court proceedings will impact the statute of limitations in your case.
Furthermore, is there any precedent for this type of situation? You might be surprised to learn that courts have confronted similar concerns in the past. For example, courts during the Civil War tolled the statute of limitations in certain cases, which means they put a temporary pause on the running of the time period for filing a claim. Additionally, some states granted an extension of time for certain statutes of limitations after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
Federal and State Officials Extending Statutes of Limitations
In some states, as well as the federal system, courts are already starting to toll the statute of limitations in certain cases.
In New York, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo has already tolled the statutes of limitations in cases in state courts through April, and will likely extend this order.
In Iowa, the state’s supreme court tolled the statute of limitations in that state through early May. In Kansas, the state supreme court was given the authority by the legislature to toll the statute of limitations if it felt it was necessary. The court responded by tolling statutes of limitations until further notice, leaving it open as to when the pause will end.
What Does a Tolling of the Statute of Limitations Mean for Your Case?
Tolling of the statute of limitations is like hitting the pause button on the time limits for filing a claim. Specifically, tolling the statute of limitations won’t prevent you from filing a case in the future. This is a good thing, as it preserves your right to pursue justice and compensation for your injuries.
However, it can also be frustrating to know that your case can’t move forward for the moment because the courts are closed and trials and settlement negotiations have been put on hold.
If you have concerns about the next steps in your case, it’s important to speak to an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible. This can put your mind at ease as you wait for the health crisis to resolve and for courts to get up and running again.
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