New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, COVID19

 

March 16th, 2020

Coronavirus and Statutes of Limitations

“STAY HOME” was what Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly tweeted Sunday morning at 9:07. And the Department of Health sent a message, which could’t be any more blunt in the Stay Home message:

** New #COVID19 guidance for New York City ** Everyone in NYC should act as if they have been exposed to coronavirus. That means monitoring your health closely and staying home from work if you are sick. New Yorkers who are not sick should also stay home as much as possible.This demand by the Governor, and the concurrent closing down of most of society, brings special legal issues.

I certainly can’t address all of the legal issues here. But I’ll bite off one: What happens to time limitations in potential lawsuits? There are things that must be done by a certain date or legal rights are lost.

Sure, the courts can adjourn conferences, stop holding trials, start conferencing cases via phone and video conferencing, extend time to perfect appeals. But what of the victims who have not yet found their way to the lawyers’ offices?

Consider this: The Notice of Claim requirement that are a mandatory prerequisite to bringing a suit against a municipality is just 90 days. And then suit must be started within 15 months from the date of an incident.

How does the lawyer meet with the potential client and do an investigation to see if representation is warranted? What of the injured people who simply say to themselves, unaware of the 90-day rule, that they will wait a few months until the crisis is over?

And the problem is not, by any means, restricted to municipal actions (for general negligence, thee years in New York).

What of the generally non-litigious people who don’t want to bring suits, and have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the injuries to get better but they didn’t? And are now compelled, on the eve of a statute of limitations running, to make that lawyer visit that they hoped was unnecessary, but can’t

Are lawyers supposed to just sign cases up willy-nilly by phone to protect people who might have a suit? And then be saddled with such clients when they find out later that no viable claim exists? That cannot possibly be good for anyone.

How does an investigator interview people in person and get a signed statement?

How does something get notarized, in the absence of a personal visit?

How does a process server serve papers when folks are reluctant to meet strangers?

After September 11th, the state faced similar problems, albeit on a more sudden and dramatic scale.

And the answer was an Executive Order from Gov. George Pataki extending all kinds of time limitations.

With the Governor now asking everyone to state home, the time to issue such orders to deal with the statutes of limitations is now.

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