Personal injury complaint timely filed under Supreme Court’s COVID-19 tolling orders, COA says

A woman injured in a car crash timely filed her complaint against the other driver, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled, pointing to Indiana Supreme Court orders that tolled statutes of limitation to ease the burden on Hoosier litigants at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Aug. 19, 2019, Peggy Malanoski was involved in a car accident with a semitractor-trailer driven by Joseph Daugherty.

More than two years later, she filed a complaint against Daugherty and his employer, William F. Braun Milk Hauling Inc., alleging that Daugherty was working within the scope of his employment and that his negligent conduct was a responsible cause of the collision and her harm.

Braun and Daugherty moved to dismiss, arguing Malanoski had not filed her lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations.

In response, Malanoski claimed the spring 2020 orders issued by the Indiana Supreme Court tolling statutes of limitation due to the public health emergency applied to her case.

An order from May 13, 2020, in particular, held that the effective date of all orders granting emergency relief “is extended through May 30, 2020, including but not limited to: … tolling of time limits … .” Then on May 29, the court issued an order “authoriz(ing) the tolling, through August 14, 2020, of all laws, rules, and procedures setting time limits for speedy trials in criminal and juvenile proceedings; public health and mental health matters; all judgments, support, and other orders; and in all other civil and criminal matters before Indiana trial courts.”

However, Braun and Daugherty pointed to an order from the Supreme Court on March 23 that specifically tolled the statutes of limitations “from March 23, 2020 to April 6, 2020 — a period of 15 days.” They argued that even if the order gave Malanoski an additional 15 days, her complaint was still untimely.

But the Marion Superior Court found otherwise, denying Braun and Daugherty’s motion to dismiss Malanoski’s complaint.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in the interlocutory appeal of William F. Braun Milk Hauling, Inc., and Joseph Daugherty v. Peggy Malanoski, 22A-CT-333.

“To the extent that the tolling of statutes of limitations could be construed as something different from the tolling of time limits, the all-encompassing phrase (“including but not limited to) clearly extends the tolling of statutes of limitations through at least May 30, 2020,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the appellate court. “Accordingly, the limitations period for Malanoski’s personal injury claim was tolled for over two months, and her complaint was timely filed.”

The COA noted that interpretation of the emergency orders was “consistent with the plain language of the orders” and with the “important policy considerations behind them,” pointing to the severely restricted travel and in-person interactions within the judiciary and attorney-client relationships.

“Those restrictions undoubtedly had an adverse impact on the ability of clients, especially those of modest financial and technological means, to seek and consult with counsel, as well as on the ability of attorneys to investigate claims and draft appropriate pre-litigation correspondence and good-faith pleadings on behalf of their clients,” Brown wrote.

“The Indiana Supreme Court recognized as much in its first March 23, 2020 emergency order … and the Court took the corrective steps necessary to ensure that the wheels of justice would not run roughshod over the rights of injured Hoosiers,” Brown continued. “Malanoski filed her complaint before the expiration of the applicable limitations period as tolled by the Indiana Supreme Court’s emergency orders, and her complaint was timely.”

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