A limitation period is a fixed length of time within which a party must bring a civil claim. These periods are determined by the Limitation Act 1980 which makes provisions in respect of different causes of action.

The limitation period will vary depending on the type of civil claim involved.

A claim may still be commenced outside of a limitation period (and the Courts will not take point on the issue), however, failing to bring a claim in time will give the defendant a ‘cast-iron’ complete defence to the claim, no matter how strong the original claim was.

If the defendant raises limitation as a defence, it is for the claimant to prove that time has not expired.

The reason for limitation periods is to ensure that individuals and organisations are not open to litigation eternally for wrongful acts or omissions. Of course, the more time that passes, the more difficult it becomes to remember vital information, produce key documentation, and properly adjudicate a case.

It is therefore essential at the outset of any new claim, that limitation is considered.

What is the limitation period for different kinds of claim and when does limitation start?

The starting point of time is usually the day on which the cause of action happens. Sometimes, however, the limitation period may not commence until the date of discoverability.

Generally, claims in tort are subject to a limitation period of 6 years. However, S14A of the Limitation Act 1980 provides that in certain circumstances, the limitation period of 6 years can be extended. For example, if the claimant only had knowledge of a claim within the last 3 years, but that falls outside the 6 year standard period, then it may still be able to bring its claim.

There is also a longstop date which is 15 years from the date of the wrongful act. If this amount of time has passed, it is an absolute bar and the Court have no discretion to vary it.

Nature of actionStarting pointLength of periodRelevant section of Limitation Act
Simple contractThe date of breach of contract.6 years.Section 5
Tort other than:·        personal injury;The date the damage is suffered.6 years.Section 2
Latent damage (in the tort of negligence) Later of:
(a) the date when the damage occurred, or
(b) the date on which the claimant first had both the knowledge required for bringing the action and the right to bring such an action. 
(a) 6 years.
(b) 3 years.
Overriding time limit: 15 years from the date on which the negligent act or omission occurred. 
Personal injury / deathLater of:
(a) accrual of cause of action, or
(b) date of knowledge of the person injured.
3 years.
The court has discretion to exclude this time limit.
Sections 11 and 12
Defamation or malicious falsehoodAccrual of cause of action.1 year.
The court has discretion to exclude this time limit.
Section 4A
Informal loan contracts The date of written demand for repayment.6 years.Section 6
Action to recover a sum recoverable by virtue of any statuteAccrual of cause of action.6 years.Section 9
Action under the Consumer Protection Act 1987Later of:
(a) the date the damage is suffered, or
(b) date of knowledge of the claimant.
3 years.
Overriding time limit: 10 years from the date on which the defective product was supplied (specific rules apply)
Section 11A
Action to recover landAccrual of cause of action12 years.
In the case of an action by the Crown, the period is extended to 30 years
Section 15
Action to recover rentThe date on which rent arrears become due.6 years.Section 19
Action to enforce judgmentThe date on which the judgment becomes enforceable.6 years.
This means a fresh action upon a judgment and does not include enforcement proceedings.
Section 24
Action against a company which goes into a) liquidation or b) administrationN/Aa) Time stops running for limitation purposes.
b) Time does not stop running for limitation purposes.

This is not set out to be an exhaustive list and the above limitation periods are subject to some exceptions.

How to protect your position

There are several options available to parties who are concerned that their claim may be at risk of being time-barred. These are:

Settlement – attempts to settle outside of Court is an option as full and final settlement agreements will end a claim in its entirety.

Enter into a standstill agreement – this has the effect of suspending/ extending the limitation period. This is usually preferable than issuing protective proceedings.

Contract out of the limitation act – the Law Commission has concluded that it could be possible by agreement to extend the limitation period. Parties should be cautious as such provisions will be awarded protection under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for contracts made after 1 October 2015.

Issue proceedings – if pre-action protocol has not yet been completed or the claim needs further work, a ‘stay’ period may be sought to allow parties to complete as required. This option has several common problems (such as payment of the wrong court fees, inaccessibility of the Courts) and thus parties much take great care if utilising this option.

If you would like advice regarding bringing or defending a civil claim, please contact commercial litigation solicitor Chelsey Wileman by email at chelsey.wileman@bhwsolicitors.com or by phone on 0116 478 5905.

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