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Parsing statutes of limitations

Parsing statutes of limitations

January 28
09:23 2019

Parsing statutes of limitations

On September 30, 2012, a vehicle operated by Dawn Williams was stopped at a traffic light when it was struck by an uninsured vehicle operated by Arly Barros and owned by Anthony’s Services, LLC. Williams sustained serious injuries for which she received extensive medical treatment, including several surgical procedures. The total cost of her medical care was approximately $189,000. On or about November 12, 2015, Williams’ insurer, Government Employees Insurance Company, resolved her claim in the amount of $100,000, the limit of the bodily injury coverage under the uninsured motorist provisions of her policy.

On February 8, 2016, the insurer commenced an action for equitable subrogation against Barros and Anthony’s Services. In their answer the defendants raised the special defense that the claim was barred by two statutes of limitations applicable to the underlying claims of negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

At trial on June 14, 2017, the defendants presented no evidence; in their summation, they iterated their special defense. Specifically, the defendants indicated that the accident occurred on September 30, 2012, but the plaintiff did not effect service of process until February 8, 2016. Accordingly, the defendants contended, the action was not commenced within three years of the “act or omission complained of” and was time barred pursuant to either of the statutes of limitations. The defendants further argued that Government Employees, as subrogee to Williams, succeeded to no greater rights than those of its insured and therefore could not bring what essentially was a tort claim on her behalf.

The court rendered judgment in favor of Government Employees in the amount of $100,000, concluding that state law was well settled that statutes of limitations do not strictly apply to equitable claims. Barros and Anthony’s Services appealed.

On appeal, the court noted that statutes of limitations do not apply in a strict fashion to causes of action that arise in equity. This is true, the court said, except where an applicable statute of limitations in clear derogation of the common law creates a jurisdictional limitation.

Barros and Anthony’s Services contended that the statutes of limitations for the underlying tort claims should control because the plaintiff “stands in the shoes” of its subrogor and therefore the plaintiff succeeded to no greater rights than those of its insured.

Accordingly, the defendants surmised that the plaintiff’s claim for equitable subrogation was subject to the same limitations period as the underlying tort claims. The court disagreed, stating that Government Employees’ claim arose only in equity, not in law or in both law and equity. Therefore the claim was not subject to any statute of limitations. The judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

Government Employees Insurance Company vs. Barros et al.-Appellate Court of Connecticut-August 28, 2018-AC 40643.

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