As civil litigators, we must be mindful of an approaching statute of limitations.
If we need to file to protect our clients' claims, we need to know when time will expire. As it has for many other aspects of life, Covid-19 has created uncertainty around filing in the courts. In direct response to many of those challenges, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill (“HB”) 4212.
How does HB 4212 affect statutes of limitation?
One key feature of HB 4212 was to allow many civil statutes of limitation—which is the legal timeframe in which a case has to be filed—to be extended so long as the Governor declared Covid-19 to be causing an ongoing emergency. Beginning June 30, 2020, statutes of limitation were tolled—meaning paused—until at least 90 days after the Governor's order declaring a state of emergency would expire.
In other words, so long as Oregon Governor Kate Brown renews the order declaring a State of Emergency, lawsuits can be filed for cases that would otherwise have expired after June 30, 2020. According to the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund Blog, as of March 19, 2021, the Governor's order will expire May 2, 2021. 90 days after that is July 31, 2021. That is the outside time to when limitations will be extended unless the Emergency Declaration is renewed.
How does HB 4212 affect personal injury cases?
The following timeframes are extended:
- Filing a personal injury lawsuit (normally two years from the date of incident)
- Filing a wrongful death lawsuit (normally three years from the date of incident)
- Notice of claim to a governmental entity (must normally be done within 180 days of incident)
- Other pre-suit notices. For example, a dram shop (aka liquor liability) claim requires notice of claim be sent to the establishment within 180 days of the date of incident.
Does this include Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist time limits?
No. UM/UIM cases in Oregon are not tolled. Perfect your statute of limitations for these cases as if Covid were not even in the picture.
So I should wait to file my lawsuits?
Unless there is a compelling reason to do so, filing a lawsuit on time is still the best practice, in my opinion. There has been litigation over whether periods are excluded and motions to dismiss. If it can be done safely using Oregon's e-filing system, bringing a lawsuit earlier is better to protect the statute of limitations. This bill is a way to save a claim that maybe an unrepresented person was not able to resolve or get help on time. Lawyers should file within the appropriate timeframe or risk uncertain litigation about your clients' cases.