Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of state-level court systems, including Maryland’s courts, declared judicial emergencies and issued orders automatically tolling, or postponing, the expiration of statutes of limitations for claims filed within those states. These orders offered plaintiffs a reprieve from the strict filing deadlines. Now, as Maryland begins the process of reopening its court systems to the public, the state’s highest court has issued an order offering clarity as to the new filing deadlines for the expiration of statutes of limitations for claims.
On June 3, 2020, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an order establishing that the applicable statutes of limitations were tolled from March 16, 2020 to July 20, 2020. Under the order, plaintiffs will also be granted an additional 15-day extension within which they must file their lawsuits. The order applies to any statute of limitations that would have otherwise expired on or after March 16, 2020.
If, for example, a litigant was required, pursuant to an applicable statute of limitations, to file a lawsuit on or before March 17, 2020 (one day after the tolling order went into effect), they will now be required to file their lawsuit on or before August 5, 2020 (one day after the tolling order is lifted, plus 15 days). As data emerges that implies a second wave of Coronavirus cases may be on the horizon, the court’s order may be subject to change in the future. But, for now, litigators have firm deadlines for which they can prepare.
It is important to note that the extensions of the statutes of limitations do not apply to federal court claims. Although Maryland’s federal courts also declared judicial emergencies, statutes of limitations were expressly not tolled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the tolling orders do not apply to federal courts, litigants must be vigilant to ensure their claims are filed in a timely manner or be forever barred.
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 Every civil claim or cause of action that may be brought in this country’s courts has a statute of limitations, i.e., a specific amount of time within which an aggrieved person or entity can bring a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations vary from claim to claim and from state to state. For instance, in Maryland, a defamation claim must be brought within one year, whereas a negligence claim may be asserted within three years. If a party fails to file their lawsuit within that statute of limitations, the penalty is harsh; with few exceptions, that party’s claim is forever barred.