In Filippova v. Cross, et al., 2023 ONSC 3777, the plaintiff, a nursing student, filed a lawsuit against her college, a long-term care home she received training from, and its employees after being removed from the nursing program in November 2020. The plaintiff commenced her original action against those defendants on September 28, 2022.
This decision dealt with the plaintiff’s motion to amend her statement of claim to include Dr. George Heckman as a defendant, alleging defamation and negligent misrepresentation against him. Dr. Heckman opposed the motion, arguing that the claim was time-barred against him. The main issue for the court was whether the proposed claims against Dr. Heckman were within the limitation period.
Summary of Facts
The plaintiff attended a long-term care home on September 10, 2020 and accompanied Dr. Heckman, a physician, when he was conducting his rounds, assessing patients. The plaintiff alleged that Dr. Heckman falsely accused her of disagreeing with him about a diagnosis in the presence of a patient and “showing off” her knowledge of medications. Dr. Heckman reported these observations to the plaintiff’s college, which the plaintiff became aware of.
On September 28, 2020, the plaintiff corresponded with Dr. Heckman via email, to advise Dr. Heckman that she had failed one of her college courses as a result of his feedback and requested the doctor review the college’s report to confirm whether it accurately reflected what he reported to them. Dr. Heckman responded, acknowledging the incidents, expressing his view of the plaintiff’s conduct and advised he would review the college’s letter.
Dr. Heckman argued that the claims against him were time-barred under the Limitations Act, 2002. He contended that the plaintiff knew all the material facts necessary to support her claims against him by September 28, 2020. The plaintiff countered that she only discovered the alleged torts on March 4, 2022, when she received the reasons and order of the McMaster University appeal tribunal regarding her removal from the college.
The court began its analysis by outlining that on a motion for leave to amend pleadings, the court should grant leave unless the responding party would suffer non-compensable prejudice, the amended pleadings are scandalous, frivolous or vexatious, or if the pleading discloses no reasonable cause of action.
The court found that the plaintiff had knowledge of the material facts regarding Dr. Heckman’s feedback and its impact on the college’s decision no later than September 28, 2020. The court determined that the limitation period for the claims against Dr. Heckman expired on September 28, 2022, or at the latest, in November 2022. The court cited Lawless v. Anderson, 2011 ONCA 102, and noted that:
“in determining when the limitation period begins, ‘the question to be posed is whether the prospective plaintiff knows enough facts on which to base an allegation of negligence against the defendant. If the plaintiff does, the claim has been ‘discovered’, and the limitation begins to run.’”
The plaintiff’s attempt to add Dr. Heckman as a defendant through her March 15, 2023, motion was found to be well after the limitation period had expired. The court agreed with Dr. Heckman’s argument that the claims were out of time, and as a result, no reasonable cause of action existed against him.
Furthermore, the court found that the proposed claim of negligent misrepresentation against Dr. Heckman also failed to disclose a reasonable cause of action. The plaintiff did not plead the requisite special relationship with Dr. Heckman or reasonable reliance on his alleged misrepresentations.
The court denied the request to add Dr. Heckman as a defendant, ruling that the claims against him were time-barred under the Limitations Act. The plaintiff was given the opportunity to redraft the amended statement of claim, excluding the claims against Dr. Heckman, and seek the defendants’ consent again.
Parties contemplating or involved in litigation must remain cognizant of timelines and the limitation period for initiating claims. The clock starts ticking from the moment when the facts leading to a legal cause of action take place and are known or reasonably knowable by the plaintiff.
In this case, the events giving rise to the plaintiff’s claim occurred in September 2020 when the plaintiff was aware that Dr. Heckman’s feedback played a role in the college’s decision to remove her. Dr. Heckman should have been included in the legal action within the initial two-year period, rather than after it had elapsed. The limitation period represents a strict deadline that courts will uphold and enforce.