The COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Continuing Impact on the Deadline for Bringing Injury Cases to Trial in California

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Continuing Impact on the Deadline for Bringing Injury Cases to Trial in California

The COVID-19 pandemic was an all-encompassing disruption across every sphere of society, including the civil justice system, and the ripple effects of that disruption are still felt today. Among other things, the pandemic led to court closures and, eventually, emergency rules that altered certain statutory deadlines for filing a complaint or bringing a case to trial. For cases filed before April 2020, those changes may still play a role today. This should serve as a reminder of the value of having a Santa Barbara car accident lawyer on your side who is fully versed in all aspects of the law and the rules of procedure to give you the best chance for success.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially designated the name COVID-19 for the Coronavirus disease, and it is presented on a blue background with the inscription "COVID-19."

M.B.’s bus accident case was one of those caught up in the pandemic closures. Her case arose from a 2016 collision to our north in Santa Clara County. Allegedly, the driver of a public bus was going too fast and crashed into another vehicle, injuring M.B., a passenger on the bus.

On January 31, 2017, the passenger sued. The court set the trial for July 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic forced it off the calendar. For a variety of reasons, the trial was ultimately set for July 2022.

The defense saw this postponement as an opportunity and asked the court to throw out the case. Section 583.310 of the California Code of Civil Procedure says that a civil action must “be brought to trial within five years after the action is commenced.” According to the defense, that meant the deadline for holding a trial was January 31, 2022, and this trial date was too late.

An Emergency Rule and an Additional Six Months of Time

Of course, the five-year period between 2017 and 2022 was no normal one, with COVID-19 in the middle of it. In 2020, the Judicial Council created emergency rules, including Rule 10(a), which said that “for all civil actions filed on or before April 6, 2020, the time in which to bring the action to trial is extended by six months for a total time of five years and six months.” (The case’s July 2022 trial date would have fallen just inside the modified 5½-year deadline.)

The defense was undeterred, arguing that, because the 5½-year standard arose from a mere rule, they were entitled to the benefit of the five-year period contained in the state statute.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and determined that the passenger was entitled to continue pursuing her case. A different statute – Government Code Section 68115 – explicitly gives the Judicial Council the power to, “notwithstanding any other law,” authorize a variety of actions in cases of war, terrorism, natural disaster, epidemic, public unrest, or state of emergency as declared by the president or the governor. Subsection 6 expressly mentions that the Council may “extend the time periods provided in Sections 583.310 and 583.320 of the Code of Civil Procedure to bring an action to trial.” In this situation, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020, which triggered the council’s statutory authority to act, and Rule 10(a) was “one of 11 rules enacted as a direct result of” the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency. In other words, the 5½-year deadline carried the force of statute, not mere rulemaking power, and the passenger should be allowed to proceed.

San Mateo Car accident Attorney
John N. Frye, Santa Barbara Car accident Attorney

You never know when unique or unusual factors are going to present themselves in your vehicle crash case. What you can do is protect yourself by having skillful legal representation on your side. Rely on the experienced Santa Barbara personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, LLP to provide that sort of detail-oriented and knowledgeable advocacy as you pursue justice for your injuries. Contact us at 805-617-1365 or through our website to get a free case consultation today.


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