Statute of Limitations: Legal Time Limits

John M. Lynch on the Statute of Limitations

Download Statute of Limitations: Legal Time Limits Notes

What does the Statute of Limitations mean?

The Statute of Limitations is the length of time a person has to make a claim following an incident that gives rise to the claim.  Once the specified 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.

Therefore, the law stepped in with the concept of the Statute of Limitations.


How long does a person have to take action? 

If a person is outside the limitation period, they cannot take an action.

For personal injuries claims an injured party has, by and large, two years.

Although the Statute of Limitation for personal injury claims is two years, there is an escape clause where a person has no knowledge that an injury is connected with a wrong committed by someone else.


This situation arose in the UK in what became a well-publicised case.  An illness known as asbestosis* was discovered, which in many cases resulted in fatalities. It was caused by asbestos which was a product that was used in the construction of roofs a number of years ago.  Twenty or thirty years later it was discovered that asbestos caused problems with lungs to the extent that people died.  Effectively, they were a slow burner and by the time the danger of asbestosis was discovered the Statute of Limitation of six years had long reached its limit.

As a result of Asbestosis disease the ‘date of knowledge’ was evolved based on the rationale that if you didn’t know about it you couldn’t possibly have done anything about it.

Whether the date of knowledge starts from the date that you consult with your doctor or the date where it became well known in the public arena is generally decided by the courts.

*Asbestosis is caused by long-term, repeated exposure to asbestos, a natural fiber that is used for various industrial purposes, such as insulation and car brake linings. Fibers of asbestos in the air are inhaled and become lodged in the lungs.  As a result, lung tissue is scarred and lungs are unable to contract and expand normally.

Does the ‘date of knowledge’ apply in Ireland?

The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991 introduced the ‘date of knowledge’ for personal injury cases.  The date of knowledge is applied 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 time limit for actions does not begin until the injured party is aware of the injury.  The date of knowledge has been applied in medical negligence cases; a person who receives a negligent medical procedure may not have knowledge of the injury at first until the injuries cause problems or they become aware that such problems arose as a consequence of such procedures.  The ‘date of knowledge’ ensures that the time limit does not run out before a person realises they have an injury/action.

What recent example is there of cases where the date of knowledge applied?

The DePuy ASR Hip Implants were recalled in August 2010 so for most DePuy patients the time limit within which they can lodge a claim for compensation will end on 25th August 2012.  i.e. they have two years from the date of knowledge which is 26th August 2010 when the defective implants were recalled in Ireland.

Is the Statute of Limitations ever amended/are the legal time limits ever extended?

Residential Abuse

The Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 was amended to allow victims of residential abuse in State institutions to seek redress from the courts.

Initially, the closing date for applications to the Residential Institutions Redress Board was 15th December 2005.  However, in exceptional circumstances, an extension of the time period was permitted to allow “late applications” up until 17th September 2011.


A couple of weeks ago Gillian O’Mahony spoke about symphysiotomy on the show.  A symphysiotomy is a barbaric procedure where the obstetrician breaks a woman’s pelvis, cutting it into two to facilitate the delivery of her baby.  This procedure was discontinued and replaced by a caesarean operation in the early part of the 20th century in the developed world, except in Ireland.

1,500 Irish women were victims of symphysiotomy between 1944 and 1992.

Women who have had a symphysiotomy suffered permanent damage as a result.  Many women have suffered a life of pain and discomfort because of incontinence, chronic pain, prolapsed organs, neurological and psychological problems with some dependent on wheelchairs.

Recently the Supreme Court upheld a High Court decision that a symphysiotomy carried out on an 18 year old in 1969 at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was “entirely unjustified and unwarranted”.  The woman in this case did not know that she had a symphysiotomy until almost 33 years later when she heard a radio programme about it.  She suffered chronic on-going pain, continuous back pain, incontinence and depression as a result of the symphysiotomy. The Supreme Court awarded compensation in the sum of €325,000.

This case was permitted due to a technicality but most cases are statute barred because the procedures took place between 10 and 60 years ago. (1944-1992). Only about 200 out of 1,500 women who had the procedures are still alive.

The Organisation for Survivors of Symphysiotomy, and many TDs including Gerry Adams are calling for an amendment to the Statute of Limitations so that survivors of symphysiotomy can seek compensation and damages from the State.

Does the Statute of Limitation apply to other areas of law other than personal injuries?

The example of asbestosis disease relates to tort law.  The Statute of Limitation also applies to contract cases where if a person does not do his work properly because of negligence the injured party is entitled to sue the person in contract within a period of six years under contract law.

Interestingly there is no date of knowledge in this area of law.


This was highlighted In the UK in 1983 Pirelli General Cable Works Limited -v- Oscar Faber and Partners involved a job carried out on concrete silos, one of which collapsed long  years after it was built.  However, the injured party was not successful as the limitation period had expired and it was decided that the date of knowledge did not extend to contract law.

What are the time limits for different areas of law?

  • If going after an account – 6 years
  • Tort other than personal injuries – 6 years
  • Contract – 6 years
  • Enforcing an arbitration award – 6 years
  • Estate – 6 years or 12 years depending on circumstances
  • Land – Adverse possession – 12 years, or 30 years if the State are taking an action
  • Unfair dismissal – 6 months

Do the Statute of Limitation time periods ever overlap?

The Statute of Limitations is a complex area of law that needs to be checked in each individual case to ensure that you are not out of time to take your case to Court.


A case that has illustrated this is DePuyASRHip Implant Recall which has a mix of different areas of law – which could include Product Liability and medical negligence and personal injury.

What if I am owed money and I am offered part-payment, does the ‘clock stop ticking’ on the limitation period and should I accept the money?

If someone acknowledges a debt this generally stops the clock running out.

However, if you accept the payment and it is only a part payment you should ensure that you acknowledge the payment as a part payment only.

Review your Existing Proceedings.

You should review the solvency of the defendant if you have started your case against someone.

The solvency of the other party is now a critical factor in taking a case and in refusing an offer in settlement or, if offered, part-payment.

A lot of people have been caught in the last two years as they started proceedings against a defendant who was solvent when proceedings started and then became insolvent.

If there is a possibility that the defendant may be in financial difficulty do a company search to determine whether this is rumour or fact at e.g. companies’ office or local district / circuit court.

Where does ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) fit into all of this?

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, therefore, well advised to consider mediation or other forms of alternative dispute mechanisms as a viable option to a fully contested Court hearing.

At Lynch Solicitors we are proficient in both approaches and will tailor each case to take advantage of either or both. Many cases benefit from a mixed approach and it is essential to put a case plan in place to take advantage of this.

If I have suffered an injury how can I ensure the time limit I have to make my claim will not expire?

It is very important to contact us, at Lynch Solicitors, immediately when your difficulty or injury occurs, or as soon as you have knowledge of your injury, to ensure your case is not affected by the Statute of Limitations.

For further advice or if you wish to discuss any other legal area please contact or telephone 052-6124344.

The material contained in this blog is provided for general information purposes only and does not amount to legal or other professional advice. While every care has been taken in the preparation of the information, we advise you to seek specific advice from us about any legal decision or course of action.

60 Comments to “ Statute of Limitations: Legal Time Limits”

  1. hi im just wondering if you could answer me a question and I would be very much obliged if you could be honest with me. if there is strong evidence about criminal behaviour by members of an garda siochana in a criminal case that me and my father were found unanamously not guilty of the crime we were wrongly accused of. what is the limitation of time to bring a case against an garda siochana thankyou graham Dutton

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      A claim in negligence , other than for personal injuries has a limitation period of 6 years. If it is grounded on fraud , then the limitation period does not begin to run until you discover the fraud. There are of course a number of other issues that would need to be addressed – for example, can you make a claim against members of the garda where you suspect that they did not perform their duties!

  2. ann says :Reply


    I found out that my husband is having an affair and want to proceed with getting a divorce, however he has left the family home and we have no contact details or any idea where he is.

    Does the statue of limitation come into effect in a case where the accused cannot be contacted?

    Any advise would be much appreciated.

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Unless it is four years ago , by and large , you cannot get a divorce. You can, however , get a judicial separation. The main difference between the two is the right to remarry after a divorce. The Statute of Limitations does not apply to the taking of judicial separation or divorce proceedings. By the way having an affair is the basis for judicial separation but is not a crime .

  3. Brian says :Reply

    My home was raided by armed Gardai under section 29 of the offences against the state act (since declared unconstitutional) in 1999.
    This was as a result of a false allegation that was made by a person whom I was in dispute with regarding my employment at the time, although this would be near impossible to prove. I was not charged with any offence and the incident bore close resemblance to the recent Foster case. I have always intended suing for damages both emotionally and reputationionally however due to a lengthy period of medically diagnosed clinical depression I was in no fit condition to pursue this.
    Can you kindly advise me of the statute of limitation time in such a case ? Thanks in anticipation, Brian.

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If you were under a “disability” i.e. of “unsound mind” as the law defines it, then you may be able to take an action even though the strict limitation period has passed. If by reason of your depression you were “incapable of managing your affairs in relation to [the incident] as a reasonable man would do, this put you into the category of a person with a disability such that you may be able to ignore the period when you were “disabled”. The time period for taking an action for personal injuries per se is 2 years . This is without dealing with the question as to whether or not you have a cause of action for the actions of the gardai in the first instance!

  4. Yvonne Nolan says :Reply

    I submitted a personal injuries complaint to a solicitor in 2005. He issued proceedings against my organisation in 2005. Unknown to me in 2013 he discontinued proceedings ‘on behalf of me’, unknown to me, without my knowledge or authorisation. I found this out in 2014 when I looked up my case on the High Court site. When queried the solicitor would not provide me with a reason why he discontinued the case. I was finally afforded a reason through the Law Society in Jan 2015. I am hoping to sue this solicitor for professional negligence. Can you tell me how long I have to do this. Is it six years form the act of the negligence; in this case the discontinuance of the case in 2013?

    Any help on this matter would be greatly appreciated.



    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If this is a claim for pure economic loss based on the presumption that the loss arose when the proceedings were discontinued the cause of action accrual period is 6 six years. This is, however, a very tricky area of law and would need a bit more detail before being more definite.

  5. Chris says :Reply

    thank you for reading my message….
    my questions is can someone take you to court after 7 years, for an unsecured account ?

    we build our home 7+ years ago, we were paying bk a hardware store but over time we would be given a bottom line receipt with only a opening balance…
    i have various times asked for a detailed statement, listing all of payments to be shown, showning chq numbers, as i believe any one did and could collect items from shop over time while we were in the building process, because the delivery notes in my records dont all match up with the number of invoices. received. the shop owner was quite insulting when questioned. as if we should pay out without checking the paper work.

    after acouple of years we had enough, we paid back over half, there was something not right. we also paid the account for 5 years plus and amount has only reduced a little, so after months of nothing in the way of proper paperwork. we stopped the payments. in the hopes of them seeing we had rights too.
    can they go to court?the accounts is now 7 years old.
    have we grounds to stop the proceedings if they do?

    many thanks on this matter.


    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      You usually have six years from the date of an account to issue proceedings. The question here appears to be whether or not you acknowledged the debt and what was the last date on which such acknowledgement occurred. The bottom line is that if you pay the account over a period of time you are accepting (acknowledging) that money was due and the only issue is really the amount of such debt. If proceedings are issued to recover monies it is a matter for the person seeking recovery to prove the amount of the debt. On the other hand, is it is an entitlement of the debtor to dispute and call into question the amount due.

  6. John O Brien says :Reply


    A fallout from the crash of 2008. If in 2006 a person purchased site, with a contracted commitment to build on within 12 months, or else vendor can seek repossession yet, the vendor over the last number of years, did not enforce this particular clause, can the vendor now apply and seek repossession in the courts, given 6 years have lapsed ?

    Thanks in advance.

    John O brien.

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      John, it would depend on how the contract was drafted, but on the face of it , unless there was a time limit imposed on the condition, it may be possible for the Vendor to look for rescission.

  7. Stephen M says :Reply

    Quick question…i have an issue with a car and was wondering does the statue of limitations time begin at the time i discover the defect [ already known by the manufacturer but kept quiet }or the date of purchase of the vehicle ?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      The quick answer is that the knowledge principle does not apply in non-personal injury litigation.

  8. Jeffery Sanders says :Reply

    With regard to when the clock stops running. Is it the day when the notice of motion is lodged with the court, the return date given by the court office or when the notice is served on the defendant? I’ve heard this can take some time – serving the defendant that is. What if the statute of limitations runs out before the defendant is served, is the case then null and void?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      By and large , the clock is stopped when proceedings are issued by the Court office.

  9. Catherine says :Reply

    My uncle died intestitate in 2013, the matter is being “looked after” by one family member and is with a solicitor but other family members due to share in his estate have not heard anything officially since his death. Could the statute of limitiations come into effect if we do not make a claim on the estate?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      There is a limitation period to the making of claims under a will which depends on the basis for such claims . I would need a bit more information to reply in more detail. Email me with more detail – at

  10. seamus says :Reply

    i took out an endowment mortgage in 1999 at that time as we and thousands more like us were told we wyud get a lum sum of between 15 and 20 thousand punts expired in sept 2009 and there was an overun on mortgage of 5800 euro since then i refused to pay this and i kept insisting i was misold this product .. and owed nothing .. lately lender has been ringing constantly and been very threatining to both myself and my wife …does the statue of limitions apply in this case .. cos no monies were paid since sept 2009 nor did i aknowledge i owed this debt ..

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Subject to seeing the paperwork, I would say that the statute of limitations does apply , unless there was an acknowledgement of the debt during the period.

  11. Criostoir says :Reply

    I voluntarily surrendered my property back in 2009.
    My then partner moved abroad to Australia and i was about to sign the home into my name but then i lost my job and because the property was in both our names i was not entitled to any help so as advised by a solicitor i voluntarily surrendered the property.
    My ex partner still lives on the other side of the world with no intention of ever returning.
    I have not heard anything from the bank regarding the property and am wondering if there is a time limit for the bank to issue proceedings for debt recovery or has it lapsed.
    It no longer shows on my credit rating.
    I have since married and will be now looking to purchase a new home with my family and i am unclear whete i stand.
    I look forward to your response

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      The limitation period is usually 6 years. Unless you acknowledged the debt during the last number of years you should be fine.

    2. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Generally, enforcement of an unsecured debt is statute-barred after six years. If the voluntary transfer was completed in 2009, the lender would be statute barred from enforcing this debt in 2015 provided that there was no acknowledgment or part-payment by you or your ex-partner.
      However, during those six years, the lender may have obtained judgment against you for the debt remaining, in which case the judgment remains enforceable for 12 years from the date the judgment becomes enforceable.
      In general, for a judgment to be registered against you, you must be served with documents that set out the details of what you owe allowing you an opportunity to defend the action.

  12. victoria says :Reply

    My ex unmarried partner was pushed out of the home in 2007 when child protection services said there was a child protection issue as long as he was living there. He had 2 years to allow me to deliver his belongings via third party. He declined to allow this. In 2014, he asked a family court judge to give him my home in lieu of the items he left behind. The judge declined and refused to address the matter as it was personal property, not real property and we were unmarried to begin with. Judge asked that we step outside to negotiate. With a duty counsel, he got me to sign an acknowledgment that i had his items (minus a dollar amount), without independent legal counsel and under duress. I did not know what the consequences were of signing as no one would tell me and i didn’t want to sign, but i signed since i was told no further court action would take place. I see now the underlying purpose of having me sign was to extend the statute of limitations so that he could take me back to court to claim $30,000. My intent was to use a third party to deliver since i still had fear of this person. I preserved all the items. The judge did not believe i was under duress or undue influence was a factor. He ruled instead of returning the items that i pay the money. Now this person is trying to find a way to take my house in lieu of money since there is no protection for my principal residence against court orders for money.
    what do i need to get this judgment overturned?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      I think you need to consult a solicitor and be conscious that this is urgent as there may be a time limit within which to appeal.

  13. peter says :Reply

    In 2008 i bought a boat in france, and took over the existing lease that the seller had with a french bank. in 2009 i defaulted for 3 monthly payments, and the bank then cancelled the lease, and initiated a new lease on a much higher interest rate and also a higher rate of VAT. I disputed this new arrangement, and with the language difficulties nothing has happened since then. what is the current legal situation ?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      This would appear to be a question of French law as the purchase was made in France and as the bank is a French bank

  14. claire says :Reply

    Have quite a complicated issue regarding a probate matter. My father in law died in January 2010 and was involved in a shared ownership scheme with the Council. The Council took no action until recently in and entered a Notice of Motion and Grounding Affidavit stamped for the 4th December 2016 this year and it went to High Court for an ad Litem to be appointed to be administrator to the estate however the estate is insolvent and the council had no insurance to cover their 60% equity in the property and now are looking for all the property to be repossessed plus arrears which have built up in the since his death although nobody lives at the premises. my question is it statued barred their claim by virtue of Section 8 or Section 9 (2)of Civil liability Act 1961 is the period of time 2 years in this case or 6 years for proceedings to be issued or a demand to be made. No demand of arrears or monies were owed before he died his account when in overdraft a couple of weeks after he died. Please come back to me as soon as possible regarding my query as the Ad Litem has been served with a copy of the Equity Civil Bill in May yet I only got a copy on request this week and need to lodge defence. Also if it not statued barred should I be lodging defence and counterclaim as a beneficiary but not a defendant or should I be lodging a grounding affidavit as we strongly believe we have a very strong case

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      It seems to me that the litigation here is an application by the county council to probate the estate. This is the first step to deal with the matter. The question of the statute may not arise where the local authority may in fact have either part ownership or security in respect of the property.

  15. tom tyrrell says :Reply

    I had a credit union loan 18 years ago, iv not paid or been in contact with at least 15 years,,can I be brought to court,,I recieved a letter saying they were giving it over to a solicitor,,

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      The limitation period for a debt that is not acknowledged, part paid or subject to fraud is 6 years .

  16. macson says :Reply

    I borrowed from a bank in 2002, things went from bad to worse and the financial crisis made it impossible.
    I was receiving calls from a debt collection agency.
    I couldn’t make payments and eventually gave up answering calls and ignoring letters.
    I got on a plane and left and have not returned since 2006.
    The amount was less than €10,000 and was part paid at the time.
    Would judgement have been made?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Judgment may very well have been made – you can do a judgments office search to see . If it was , then there is a 12 year recovery window.

  17. Lorraine Saunders says :Reply

    I have recent been made aware the a solicitor who represented me in a case previously is being investigated for over charging client and other fraudulent activities.

    At the time the compensation I was paid was quite a large amount however the fees they took seemed excessive at the time.

    This was about 10 years ago has this passed the statute of limitations to be looked at?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Lorraine, apologies for the delay in responding.

      Yes, the is a time limit to contest an account but if you suspect that there is overcharging , you should get a cost accountant to look at the bill to see if that might be the case. It may be something that the Law Society would be able to address for you.

  18. Domnic says :Reply

    John there was a judgement made in the district family Court about 4 years ago..In the mean time the legal aid board would not represent him as they said it was a budget problem. The person had a heart attack and was not physically or mentally fit to take on another appeal.
    Now time has elapsed in bringing a case….. Is there any thing he can do.

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      Unfortunately,if made four years ago , the time limit would be more than likely expired.

  19. Marie Fawl says :Reply

    If you wanted to bring a crime to the police but the person who committed the crime did so in another country, which statute of limitations would apply? The one in your own country or in theirs?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      I would say , theirs …but it is hard to make that call without details.

  20. Jan Bacak says :Reply

    Hello. I been involved in 3 armed robberies as security worker in 2012,2013 and 2014. The company never provided me any psychologist help after robberies and only last year in Oktober 2018 i been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder by Clinical Psychologist relation to this robberies. I am out of work for more than 6 months on the medications for over 2 years. Can I claim this now as i was diagnosed on delayed on trauma?
    Thank You

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      I would need a bit more information to make a definitive response. The question may come down to when you ought to have sought professional help!

  21. Marie Fawl says :Reply

    Even if the Statute of Limitations has expired in your own country?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If you have two jurisdictions , you need to know which one applies .

  22. Shaun Murray says :Reply


    In Ireland the Statute of Limitations is 6 months for summary offences, so things like driving offences, etc. However, it says the Statute of Limitations on Indictable offences is Unlimited. Does that mean any crime that isn’t a summary offence, or a misdemeanor, has no Statute of Limitations at all?


    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      You would need to check the specifics of the offence – i.e the legislation. There is an inherent jurisdiction in the Courts to dismiss proceedings for delay. This may also be a relevant consideration.

  23. Marie Fawl says :Reply

    And which jurisdiction takes precedence?

  24. Gerard Guthrie says :Reply

    Hi John, I have received a further steps notice from the national compliance and enforcement service in the UK from the historic debt team, there were no details about what the amount owed was for so I contacted them and they informed me that it was from the DVLA from 2008, I have no knowledge of this fine but they say that I still have to pay, I have since moved to Ireland, does the statute of limitations apply here or are they just chancing that I might pay something of which I am unaware? Thank you

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      I am afraid I cant help you here – I have no knowledge of DVLA!

  25. declan brereton says :Reply

    is their a statute of limitations on claiming child maintenance . my stepdad got his kids when they were 13 and 16 he went to court and got full custody at that point.up to that point the x wife was paid maintenance by him .recently she (the x wife) started procedings against him for maintenance for the kids up to the age of 18 ,they are now 30 and 33 respectfully and for half the value of his property which he lives in with my mum who he is married to at the moment. the case has being adjourned at the moment and he has handed over 3,000 euro to barrister and solicitor at the moment this seems wrong could you advise me on this

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      It is very hard to comment on a case without having the benefit of all the paperwork. I wonder if her stepfather has been served with divorce (rather than maintenance proceedings per se) which include an application for maintenance. While there are time limits on how for back you can recover maintenance, the time limit on maintenance is how early you can apply for it – i.e. not earlier than 2 years.

  26. Gerrard says :Reply

    How long is the statute of limitations on a Hybrid Offence?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If it by statute , you check the relevant legislation. Email me, if you want me to check it.

  27. Sarah says :Reply


    If the statute of limitations has passed on a crime, can anything be done? Or would it not even be investigated etc?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      If a time limit as specified by law has passed . no legal action can normally be taken.

      1. Sarah says :Reply

        I see, but can police still investigate and leave it up to the defendant to claim the time has passed? Or can they not even do that?

        1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

          Yes, you have to argue the case when it come to hearing.

  28. Sarah says :Reply

    So even if the statute of limitations has passed, a person can still be arrested?

    1. John M. Lynch says :Reply

      A person can be arrested for questioning but the lawfulness of the arrest may arise if the matter goes to trial.

  29. Hi, I’m writing a novel and in it, an armed robbery was committed in 1985 – no one was arrested or charged, but the culprit is discovered in 2012 – could you possibly tell me if that falls foul of the statute of limitations or can my character be arrested? 🙂 You’d save me a lot of heartache if I could get a definitive answer! thanks so much in advance

    1. The statute of limitations that I discussing was for civil and not criminal matters. I am not a criminal lawyer but believe that your suspect could be arrested and charged with the murder .

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