Before you can bring a civil claim, one of the most important factors to consider is whether you are in time for doing so. If you are not, because the ‘limitation period’ for bringing your claim has passed, the defending party to your claim can use limitation as a defence – your claim may be considered ‘time barred’ and dismissed.
What are limitation periods?
Limitation periods have been established under the Limitation Act 1980. The Act sets out fixed periods of time during which formal civil proceedings must be commenced. The limitation period varies depending on the type of civil claim involved.
Why are there limitation periods?
Limitation periods were introduced for public policy reasons – simply put, in law, it is considered unfair and contrary to public policy for individuals or organisations to be perpetually exposed to litigation for wrongful acts or omissions. The reasoning behind this also makes practical sense because the passage of time adversely affects the credibility and strength of evidence, such as including witness recollections and the preservation of documents, making a fair trial more difficult.
What is the limitation period for my claim?
The limitation period for your claim will depend on what type of claim it is. The Limitation Act 1980 sets out the limitation periods for most types of claim, as shown below, but there are other statutes for some specialist claims (not listed below).
- Contract claims: within 6 years of the date of the alleged breach of contract (with certain contracts, such as deeds, this can be extended to 12 years)
- Claims to enforce awards in arbitration: 6 years
- Debts arising under statute: 6 years
- Personal injury claims: 3 years from the date of the injury/death or the date you first learnt about the injury/death (except for those aged under 18 years at the time of the injury, for whom the 3 years runs from their 18th birthday)
- Negligence claims: 6 years from the date of the alleged negligence
- Claims in relation to the recovery of land: 12 years
- Claims in relation to breach of trust: 6 years
- Tortious claims: 6 years
- Defamation and malicious falsehood: 1 year
Are there any exceptions to the rules?
Yes – there are a number of factors that may impact the application of limitation periods to a case. Here are some examples:
1. Where material facts in relation to a claim have been concealed by the defendant, limitation periods will commence when a claimant becomes aware, or ought to have become aware, of them.
2. The court retains equitable discretion under the Limitation Act 1980 to allow a claim to proceed.
3. Limitation must be raised by the defendant as a defence. Claims can sometimes proceed, where they are not actively defended.
All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.