• Countering Statutes of Limitations with Equitable Estoppel
  • December 8, 2017 | Authors: David B. Newman; Matthew L. Lippert
  • Law Firms: Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. - New York Office; Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. - Newark Office
  • Statutes of limitations may be “somewhat harsh and seemingly unjust,”[1] but even a concededly expired limitations period is not always the end of a cause of action, because the doctrine of equitable estoppel exists to provide plaintiffs a safe haven in certain instances when the ordinary limitations analysis would produce a manifestly unjust result. New York’s statute of limitations regime generally reflects a public policy favoring the “objectives of finality, certainty and predictability.”[2] The New York Court of Appeals has explained that “[s]tatutes of limitation not only save litigants from defending stale claims, but also express a societal interest or public policy of giving repose to human affairs,” which is why the court has “repeatedly rejected accrual dates which cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty, in favor of a bright line approach.”[3] As a result, there are only a few situations in which a New York plaintiff can avail itself of the discovery rule to delay the accrual of a cause of action until the time when the plaintiff could reasonably have uncovered the facts giving rise to that cause of action.[4] This has the advantage of making statute-oflimitations analysis fairly simple in the ordinary case. However, it increases the likelihood that New York lawyers will be approached by clients with serious problems but, seemingly, no viable cause of action, because the wrong was not discovered until the limitations period had already run out. However, New York does offer parties in that position a way to avail themselves of discovery-rule-like protections — the doctrine of equitable estoppel.