What is the Statute of Limitations?
The term ‘statute of limitations’ refers to the length of time that a person has to make a personal injury claim following an accident. The rules surrounding this time limit is set out in the Statute of Limitations Act 1957.
A person has two years less one day from the date of knowledge to bring a claim forward.
What is the Date of Knowledge?
The date of knowledge refers to the date on which the person injured had knowledge of the following facts:
- That they had been injured
- That the injury in question was significant
- That the injury was caused by negligence by the party at fault for the accident
- That they know the identity of the party at fault for the accident
In many cases, the date of knowledge will be the day of the accident. For example, in cases where a person is involved in a car accident and breaks their leg. On the day of the accident they know that they have been injured, they are aware that the injury is significant and that the injury was caused by the negligence of the driver.
This is not the case for all personal injury claims. In some cases, an injury/illness may not manifest itself for some time after the incident occurred. In these cases, the date of knowledge is considered to be the date when they found out they were injured.
Why is There a Time Limit Imposed?
The rationale behind imposing time limits works in favour of both parties involved in the claim; the quicker you proceed the easier it may be to source strong evidence to support your claim. Secondly, living with the prospect of potential legal action for eternity is considered an unfair position for the defendant.
A word of caution, however. If there is a delay for whatever reason in bringing such an action for personal injuries, a court may decide that the claim should be dismissed, if the delay is considered unreasonable.
Children and Time Limits
For accidents involving children (child under the age of 18) injured in an accident, their circumstances are treated a little differently than an accident involving an adult. A minor cannot bring a personal injury claim forward themselves. Therefore if no claim is made in the 2 years following the accident, the two-year time limit to make a claim starts from the date of the child’s 18th birthday.
A minor does, however, have an opportunity to bring an injury claim forward before their 18th birthday if a parent or guardian does so on their behalf. This is referred to as acting as the minor’s ‘next friend’. In some cases, it is advisable to pursue the claim before the child’s 18th birthday. The sooner a claim is made the easier it is to source reliable evidence to strengthen your child’s case. It is advisable to contact a solicitor immediately following an accident to discuss the next steps in making a claim.
Calculating Time Limits
Contacting a solicitor as soon as possible after an accident is crucial. The longer you leave the less time you may have to pursue a claim. If you do contact a solicitor immediately following an accident, the statute of limitations shouldn’t have an impact on your ability to pursue a claim. In determining how long you have to make a claim a solicitor will follow these steps:
- Ascertain the date of the accident/date of knowledge
- Determine the date where your claim time limit will expire
- Complete a Form A and send it to Injuries Board for Assessment
- The date of acknowledgement letter from the Injuries Board
Once the Injuries Board assess your claim, your case will either settle (where both parties agree to the settlement figure suggested by the Injuries Board) or proceed to court (where one or both parties do not agree to the settlement figure). If your case proceeds to court following Injuries Board Authorisation your solicitor has 6 months to pursue a claim through the Courts
Statute of Limitations for Medical Negligence*
When noting how long a medical negligence claim takes it is important to understand that, Medical Negligence cases are treated differently from personal injury cases. They’re not assessed by the Injuries Board. You will need to contact a solicitor to discuss the pursuit of a case as soon as possible after the date of the incident or the date of knowledge.
In personal injury claims, the clock on the two-year time limit stops when the PIAB application has been made. As the Injuries Board does not assess medical negligence claims then the only way to stop the clock on the two-year time limit is to issue court proceedings. It is important to note that before court proceedings can be issued medical negligence must be proven and it can take a long time to source medical reports and an independent medical expert assess the case. Before the clock can be stopped and legal proceedings issued the person pursuing a medical negligence case must first find an expert medical negligence solicitor so they can:
- Source medical reports
- Have the case assessed by an independent medical expert
- Wait for the assessment and report to be written to be returned to them (this can take some time)
- Draft and issue court proceedings
- Settle the claim
Exceptions to the statute of limitations
There are some exceptions to the general two-year time limit in certain circumstances such as:
- Cases where the person who sustained the injury is considered to be mentally impaired as a result of the injury.
- Cases where a person sustained such serious injury that prevents them from making a claim. In this case, the person will have two years from the date where they are considered capable to do so.
- Misdiagnosis of an illness. In this case, the 2-year time limit would start as soon as the person is diagnosed correctly.