Limitation- Keep your eye on the clock

Limitation is one of the first issues to resolve when considering bringing a claim and you should always discuss this with your solicitor in your initial meeting. It must be established right at the beginning whether the claim is “time-barred.” If limitation has expired, then you may be “statute-barred” from bringing the claim. That is, you could still bring the claim but the defendant would have a complete defence.

“Limitation” means that there are certain time limits imposed on the claimant within which a claim must be commenced. The law on limitation is primarily set out in the Limitation Act 1980 (“the Act”) which makes provisions for different limitation periods for different causes of action.

"Limitation" means that there are certain time limits imposed on the claimant within which a claim must be commenced. The law on limitation is primarily set out in the Limitation Act 1980 ("the Act") which makes provisions for different limitation periods for different causes of action.

In every case, there are two key considerations. Firstly, when does the clock start ticking and secondly, how long is it ticking for?

When does it start?

The limitation period generally runs from the date the cause of action accrues which is dependent on the cause of action itself.

For example, in a negligence claim, the limitation period usually runs from the date the damage is suffered by the negligent act or omission. Although, in the case of latent damage, it is three years from the date of knowledge of that damage subject to a fifteen year time limit from the date of the defendant's negligent act or omission.

Whereas, in a contract claim for example, the limitation period will run from the date the contract was breached.

What is the relevant period?

The relevant period also depends on the cause of action. There are a number of limitation periods and exceptions so it is important you always discuss in detail with your solicitor. However, typically:

  • Contract: within six years of the date of the breach, although this is extended to twelve years where the contract is contained in a deed.
  • Defamation: within one year of the cause of action accruing.
  • Fraud: within six years of the cause of action accruing which does not begin to run until the fraud has been discovered or with reasonable diligence could have been discovered.
  • Negligence: within six years, although in the case of latent damage, three years from the date of knowledge subject to a fifteen year time limit.

In the event it can be shown that the defendant deliberately concealed any fact relevant to the claimant's claim, then pursuant to s32 of the Act, the limitation period can be extended. Limitation would run for six years from the date on which the claimant either did discover, or could with reasonable diligence have discovered, the concealment.

For limitation purposes, a claim is "brought" when the claim form is delivered to the court, that is, the date it is received by the court and not the date on which the court issue the claim form as they may not always issue that day. It is good practice to always obtain a receipt from the court as evidence that the claim form has been received, especially in cases where limitation is an issue.

Final thoughts

Whilst, it is possible for the parties to suspend time for the purposes of limitation by way of an agreement, this is a last resort and is by no means a certainty. Therefore, although there may be a valid reason as to why you have not commenced the claim quickly, it is important to seek advice as to the appropriate next steps and not let time run away with you.

For further information, please contact Jessica Chappell, [email protected].