What is a Limitation Period?
A ‘limitation period’ is a type of time limit. It refers to the amount of time you have got in which to start a Civil claim.
The law says that you only have a set amount of time in which you can start a civil claim. The law calls this the ‘limitation period’. Courts are very strict about this deadline so it is important to know how much time you have got to start court proceedings.
There are different limitation periods for different types of cases, but for most cases the limitation period will be between three to 12 years.
The Limitation of Actions Act provides the limitation periods for different claims as follows:
- Six years for contractual claims.
- Six years for enforcement of recognisance.
- Six years for enforcement of awards.
- Six years for recovery of sums due under law.
- Six years for claiming equitable relief.
- Three years for tort claims, except actions for libel or slander, which must be brought within 12 months.
- 12 years for actions to recover land.
- 12 years from the date of the judgment for an action based on a judgment issued by the courts.
- Six years for actions to recover arrears.
- Two years for an action to recover any penalty or forfeiture or sum by way of penalty or forfeiture recoverable under a written law.
- Six years from the date the interest became due for actions relating to arrears of interest with regard to a judgment debt.
Contracts Limitation Periods
The limitation period for a contract claim is six years from the date of the breach of contract. This means that you must issue any court proceedings by the sixth anniversary of the breach.
The ‘date of the breach of contract’ will be the date when part or all of the contract was broken because one of the parties to it failed or refused to do something the contract committed them to doing.
This date may or may not be the same as the date when you first realise that there has been a breach of contract, perhaps because the damage only happens later. If there has been fraud or deliberate concealment so that you discover the breach after 6 years have passed, you may have more time, but you would need to get proper legal advice first.
Personal Injury Limitation Periods
The limitation period for a personal injury claim is three years from the date of the injury. This means that you must issue any court proceedings by the third anniversary of your accident.
In some circumstances, the limitation period is longer. So, if you only become aware of an injury much later then you have three years from the date you discovered, or could reasonably have discovered, the cause of your injury. If you are injured under the age of 18, you have until your 21st birthday to start court proceedings.
If you start a case when you are under 18, your parents or other adults have to bring proceedings on your behalf. If you don’t have mental capacity at the time you are injured, for example, if you were sectioned or if you have dementia, time only starts to run once or if you have mental capacity again. So, if you regain your mental capacity, you have three years from that point in which to start your claim.
Negligence or Breach of Duty Limitation Periods not Involving Personal Injury
The limitation period for negligence claims (that are not personal injury) is six years from the date of the negligent act. If you only become aware of the negligence much later you have three years from the date you discovered, or could reasonably have discovered it.
If you don’t have mental capacity at the time the problem occurs – for example, because you are sectioned or you have severe dementia, then time doesn’t start to run until or if you recover.
Limitation Periods for Certain Claims Against the Government
Limitation periods for certain claims against the government are covered by the Public Authorities Limitations Act (Cap 39) (PALA). The limitation periods for commencing certain claims against the government are:
- Three years for contract claims;
- One year for tort claims.
The wording of the PALA implies that these limitation periods only apply to proceedings in the High Court. There is no mention of these limitations applying to arbitrations.
However, one should be aware of the limitations when instituting arbitration proceedings against the government, as the government is likely to raise a preliminary objection if these limitation periods have passed.
What Happens if You Miss the Deadline for Starting Court Proceedings?
In most cases, you only get one chance to start court proceedings. If you miss the deadline, your case will almost certainly not get off the ground. In very limited circumstances it might be possible to extend the deadline.
If you are in this position, don’t delay, get legal advice. Otherwise, your application is what lawyers call ‘out of time’.