The Statute of Limitations is the length of time a person has to make a claim after an incident that causes damage or harm. Once the time has passed an action can no longer be brought. The logic is simple and grounded in common sense principles: after a certain length of time it is impossible to get accurate evidence – be it witnesses, people’s recollection etc. and the threat of legal action cannot hang over a person for an indefinite time. The legal time limits vary depending on the area of law, for example a personal injury claim has to be made within two years; you have three years for a product liability claim; six years for a breach of contract claim; and so on. The Statute of Limitations may also work negatively against someone, for example with squatter’s rights after a certain time period – 12 years, or 30 against the State – a person may lose their land or property to a squatter who has been in possession of it for this length of time.[pullquote style=”left”]Generally, if a person is outside the limitation period they cannot take an action.[/pullquote] But as with life, there are always exceptions. The big one is the ‘date of knowledge’ which extends the time until you know or ought to have known that you had a case.
Date of Knowledge
Date of Knowledge claim has to be made within two years; three years for a product liability claim, six years for a breach of contract claim. However, the ‘date of knowledge’ can apply, mainly in medical negligence cases, where a person is not aware of the injury at the time it occurs.
The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991 introduced the ‘date of knowledge’ for personal injury cases. The date of knowledge applies when the date the wrong/injury takes place differs from the date the wrong/injury is discovered. This means that in situations where the injury may not be obvious at first, the reason for the injury may not be known or the person responsible for the injury or damage is unknown, the time limit for actions does not begin until this information becomes known.
1,500 Irish women were victims of symphysiotomy between 1944 and 1992. Women who had a symphysiotomy suffered permanent damage as a result and endured a life of pain and discomfort. Many of the women were not aware that they had a symphysiotomy and may have only become aware of it many years later. The Organisation for Survivors of Symphysiotomy, and many TDs are calling for an amendment to the Statute of Limitations so that survivors of symphysiotomy can seek compensation and damages from the State.
Stopping the Clock
It can be more difficult to know when you have a case where you are dealing with another area of law, outside of medical negligence/personal injury. Does it the time start to run when it happened and you have no damage or is it when the damage occurred? A lot of the case law now says that you cannot sue until you know you have damage. In cases where you have concealment or fraud by a professional, the clock starts to run when you find out about the concealment or fraud. In the case of a minor the clock starts to tick when the child is 18 years of age. The Court may decide, in some cases, that if a person has psychological difficulties arising from the damage the clock does not start to tick until the person is capable of taking a case.
ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
The option of resolving disputes out of Court is now becoming a big issue because of the cost, the time and the uncertainty of litigation. Clients are well advised to consider mediation or other forms of alternative dispute mechanisms as a viable option to a fully contested Court hearing.