Ohio passed last week an emergency bill (HB 197) relating to the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The bill made a significant change to Ohio’s statute of limitations laws. In Ohio, a person who has a claim against another is generally subject to a statute of limitations period, which sets a definite amount of time that the person must bring the claim in a lawsuit. If the person fails to bring the claim during that timeframe, he or she is generally unable to bring that claim at any time in the future.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has affected all Ohioans, including those connected to the justice system. For instance, most Ohio courts appear to have significantly limited their physical operations, including how lawsuits are filed with the clerk of courts. Physical contact with clerk staff has been significantly limited or in some cases banned altogether. The public health crisis has also impacted law firms and attorneys, with some reducing their physical operations and some switching to remote working environments. These changes affect Ohioans who have pending claims but who have yet to file a lawsuit. House Bill 197 seeks to help those Ohioans.
Per Section 22 of the legislation, the following claims, defenses, and causes which would normally expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020 are tolled:
- The time to bring criminal prosecutions;
- The time to bring civil lawsuits;
- The time to complete discovery, assuming the deadline would expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020;
- The time during which a party to a civil lawsuit must be served with a summons and complaint; and
- Most, if not all, other criminal and civil deadlines.
The tolling of these periods continues until the earlier of the following: (1) when the emergency is declared over, presumably by the Governor of Ohio or (2) July 30, 2020.
On March 27, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court issued an Administrative Action detailing the effects of the bill, which can be found by clicking on this link or copy and paste into your browser: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2020/2020-Ohio-1166.pdf. The last section of that order is particularly important to pending lawsuits:
Notwithstanding the tolling of time requirements imposed by this order, the Court, local court, hearing panel, board, or commission, as applicable, may still require filing in accordance with existing rules and issue orders setting a specific schedule in a case or requiring parties to file documents by a specific due date if pertaining to a situation that requires immediate attention. A specific order in a case issued on or after March 9, 2020, shall supersede the tolling provisions of this order, unless otherwise noted in that specific order.
Thus, a party in active litigation will likely continue litigating his or her case during the tolling period, including meeting filings dates. This is particularly true in those cases where the court issues a scheduling order for the case after March 9, 2020.
If you believe you are impacted by this legislation, particularly if you are not currently involved in a lawsuit but believe you may have a claim against another, you should contact an attorney immediately so that he or she can advise you on your options moving forward, including whether you should rely on the tolling order or file lawsuit during the tolling period.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.
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