When can the two-year statute of limitations be extended?

Are there times when the two-year statute of limitations does not apply to a personal injury lawsuit? That’s the question a recent California court decided, to the surprise of many legal practitioners. In Hopkins v. Jurek Kedzierski (issued 4/16/14) 225 Cal.App.4th 736, the court decided that the statute of limitations didn’t apply because of a variety of reasons.

In Hopkins, the plaintiff worked for a company called Perfect Smile Dental Ceramics. In May 2008, the plaintiff fell from a balcony at the premises of Perfect Smile, and, soon thereafter, began receiving workers’ comp benefits. Under California law (the so-called “exclusive remedy rule”), the plaintiff could not sue Perfect Smile in a civil lawsuit for personal injuries (even if the company had negligently caused the accident); he was limited to the workers’ comp remedy against his employer.

The plaintiff’s attorney in Hopkins apparently assumed, without really investigating the issue, that Perfect Smile owned the building where it had its offices. However, the husband and wife who owned the company actually owned the building in their individual capacities, separate from the corporate entity. They could therefore be sued, in their role as the building owners, if a dangerous condition on the property caused injuries.The company and the individual owners are treated as separate entitles for purposes of applying the exclusive remedy rule, provided that the individuals are performing some function separate and apart from their role as owners of the company. See Miller v. King (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 1732.

By the time the plaintiff’s attorney in Hopkins recognized his error and filed a civil lawsuit against the individual building owners, it was September 2010, and the two-year limitations period had expired. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, the Fourth Appellate District, Division One reversed and remanded the case so that the trial court could make factual findings as to whether the two-year limitations period was extended by the doctrine of equitable tolling.

Click here to find out more about how the Hopkins court came to this decision on our website, Booth & Koskoff.