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In May 2008, Linda Hopkins fell from an outdoor balcony at the offices of her employer, Perfect Smile Dental Ceramics, Inc. As a result of the injuries she suffered in the fall, she was unable to work. Jurek Kedzierski and Margo Kedzierski own Perfect Smile and also own the office building in which Perfect Smile is located. Shortly after her accident, Hopkins began receiving workers’ compensation benefits. In April 2009, she filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, seeking additional benefits.

In September 2010, brought a negligence/premises liability claim against Jurek Kedzierski, as trustee of the Jerzy Jurek Kedzierski and Margo Kedzierski Revocable Living Trust (the Trust), and against Margo, as an individual, and a negligence claim against the Trust. Hopkins alleged that that the statute of limitations on these claims had been equitably tolled while she pursued her April 2009 workers’ compensation claim. Hopkins also alleged that respondents were equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense based on settlement negotiations that she claimed had taken place prior to her filing the original complaint in this action.

Hopkins’s former counsel, Eric Welch. testified that he received information in September 2009 that led him to believe that Perfect Smile owned the building where the accident occurred. In October 2009, Attorney Welch sent a demand letter to Jurek and Perfect Smile. Golden Eagle Insurance, the insurer for both Perfect Smile and the Kedzierskis, informed Welch that it was investigating Hopkins’s claim. On March 8, 2010, Golden Eagle notified Welch that it was denying the claim.

The trial court determined that neither doctrine applied. Based on these findings, the court concluded that Hopkins’s complaint was not timely filed. The trial court entered judgment in favor of respondents and Hopkins appealed. The Court of Appeal remanded the case to the trial court for factual findings as to whether Hopkins demonstrated the elements of equitable tolling in the published decision of Hopkins v .Kedzierski.

The equitable tolling of statutes of limitations is a judicially created, nonstatutory doctrine. It is ‘designed to prevent unjust and technical forfeitures of the right to a trial on the merits when the purpose of the statute of limitations – timely notice to the defendant of the plaintiff’s claims – has been satisfied. Where applicable, the doctrine will suspend or extend a statute of limitations as necessary to ensure fundamental practicality and fairness.

In Elkins v. Derby (1974) 12 Cal.3d 410, 414 (Elkins), the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of equitable tolling may apply to toll the statute of limitations on a claim during the period in which a plaintiff pursues another remedy for the harm that the plaintiff suffered. The Elkins court adopted a line of cases in which courts had concluded that “if the defendant is not prejudiced thereby, the running of the limitations period is tolled ‘[w]hen an injured person has several legal remedies and, reasonably and in good faith, pursues one.’ ” (Id. at p. 414, quoting Myers v. County of Orange (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 626, 634 (Myers).)

In Elkins, the plaintiff suffered an injury in September 1969 while working on the defendants’ premises. Approximately 10 months after the injury, the plaintiff filed an application for workers’ compensation benefits against the defendants. A workers’ compensation referee determined that the plaintiff was not an “employee” of the defendants under the applicable Labor Code provisions at the time of his injury and concluded that he was therefore ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The plaintiff filed a personal injury action seeking recovery for the same injury that served as the basis of his workers’ compensation claim. On appeal, the Elkins court held that the statute of limitations had been tolled for the period during which the plaintiff pursued his workers’ compensation remedy.

In the wake of Elkins, the California Supreme Court has stated that in order to prove the applicability of the equitable tolling doctrine, a party must establish “three elements: ‘timely notice, and lack of prejudice, to the defendant, and reasonable and good faith conduct on the part of the plaintiff. The timely notice requirement essentially means that the first claim must have been filed within the statutory period and must alert the defendant in the second claim of the need to begin investigating the facts which form the basis for the second claim.

Contrary to the trial court’s memorandum of decision, there is neither legal nor logical support for the court’s ruling that in order for equitable tolling to apply, Hopkins was required to have been unsuccessful in seeking workers’ compensation benefits before the Elkins doctrine will apply. “While it is true that the plaintiff in Elkins was unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain workers’ compensation benefits (id. at p. 413), there is nothing in the opinion that suggests that this fact was necessary to the court’s conclusion.” The matter is remanded with directions for the trial court to determine whether Hopkins has demonstrated the three required elements of equitable tolling.