COUNTING TIME Virginia’s Extension of the Statute of Limitations During COVID-19 Pandemic Gives Every Claim More Time


“Lost time is never found again,” an insightful quote by Benjamin Franklin, apparently no longer applies in post-COVID Virginia, since the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that time lost during the pandemic shutdown of the courts can be added back to the Statute of Limitations deadlines for all claims.

The Virginia Supreme Court has authority to suspend Statutes of Limitations during a judicial emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic created just such an emergency when courts were ordered to close for an extended period, and the Supreme Court, through issuance of multiple declarations, effectively tolled all Statute of Limitations deadlines from March 16, 2020 through July 19, 2020—a total of 126 days.

Among the many new and unique questions of law borne out of this incipient situation, the tolling of Statute of Limitations deadlines created questions unique to itself. While it was clear that the deadlines were extended by four months, what remained unclear was whether that extension applied only to claims that expired during the tolling period, or whether the extension applied to all Statute of Limitations deadlines. By late 2020, several circuit courts had examined this question, but a unanimous conclusion remained elusive. One such case, which originated in the City of Roanoke Circuit Court, finally resolved the confusion recently in the Court of Appeals in English v. Quinn, 76 Va. App. 80, 880 S.E.2d, 35 (2022).

The originating case (English v. Quinn, 109 Va. Cir. 293 (2020)) raised the issue when Mr. English filed suit for injuries he sustained in a July 28, 2018, motor vehicle accident caused by Quinn. Under normal computations of time, the Statute of Limitations for English’s claim should have expired on July 28, 2020; however, relying on the Va. Supreme Court’s tolling extension, English filed suit nearly four months thereafter.

Quinn subsequently filed a plea in bar stating that English’s claims were barred by the Statute of Limitations because the tolling extension applied only to claims that expired during the extension period, not those that expired afterward. English, in his opposition to the plea in bar, claimed that the extension applied to all deadlines affected by the judicial emergency.

The Circuit Court agreed with Quinn’s interpretation, pointing to the simplistic language contained in two of the Supreme Court’s orders, as well as the examples provided by the Supreme Court dealing with only cases expiring during the extension period. The Circuit Court, in rejecting English’s claims and dismissing the case in its entirety, reasoned:

If the tolling period applied to all cases, plaintiffs filing lawsuits

with Statutes of Limitations that are three, five, or even ten years

would still be eligible for an extra four months of time to file,

regardless of [whether] their cases were impacted by the

COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court likely did not intend

for the tolling to apply to all cases in perpetuity.

English, 109 Va. Cir. at 297.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, deciding that the Virginia Supreme Court’s emergency orders tolled and extended all statutes of limitations. The Court of Appeals examined the emergency orders as a whole, declining to “isolate particular words or phrases, but rather examine an order in its entirety.” English, 76 Va. App. at 90, quoting Colbert v. Commonwealth, 47 Va. App., 390 (2006).

Where Quinn relied on language in only one or two of the Supreme Court’s orders, the Court of Appeals looked to all of them as a whole, recognizing that the Supreme Court chose its words and verb tenses specifically to include—and omit—language to express its true intent. The Court of Appeals concluded that to the extent there was ambiguity, “it was resolved by the Court's express instruction that the remaining time for all statutes of limitations periods was to be added back when the judicial emergency ended.” English, 76 Va. App. at 92.

It is made clear through English that the Virginia Supreme Court’s emergency orders extending the tolling period of the Statute of Limitations applies to all Statute of Limitations deadlines and instructs that claimants may add the additional days at the end of the regular tolling period for their claims.

If you have questions about this article or about the laws regarding Statute of Limitations guidelines in general, please contact Denise Reverski ( at (804) 377-1272 or Steve Setliff ( at (804) 377-1271.