In the UK most claims for personal injury compensation following an accident are subject to a 3 year limitation period. This generally means that court proceedings must be started within 3 years of the date of the accident.
In some cases, where the injury or disease is not immediately apparent, the 3 year period will start to run from the date that you knew that the injury was connected to the original accident or negligent act. This is known as the ‘date of knowledge’ and is usually most relevant to claims for industrial diseases that develop over a number of years – for instance claims for diseases caused by exposure to asbestos and which may not develop until years after the original exposure.
In most cases involving an accident it will be apparent that some kind of injury has been sustained and the three year period starts to run immediately, even if you later discover that the injury was more serious than you first thought.
If court proceedings are not started within the 3 year limitation period your claim will become ‘statute-barred’. If you start court proceedings after the end of the 3 year period you will generally need the permission of the court to continue with your claim. However, court permission is granted subject to very strict criteria and is not guaranteed. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that court proceedings are commenced within the 3 year period.
Beware: the 3 year limitation period does not apply to all claims
There are some claims that are subject to a shorter limitation period. In particular, claims brought in respect of criminal injuries are subject to shorter limitation periods. Claims for compensation arising out of an accident outside of the UK, including accidents on planes and boats, may also have shorter limitation periods.
Different limitation rules also apply to claims made on behalf of children for whom the limitation period generally starts to run when they reach the age of 18. People being treated under the Mental Health Act 1983 are also subject to different limitation rules.
You should consult your solicitor for advice about the limitation period that applies to your particular claim.
It is important to understand that the limitation period rules require the formal step of issuing court proceedings to be taken within the limitation period. It is not sufficient to instruct solicitors or submit a claim to an insurer within the limitation period – formal court proceedings must actually be commenced.
If you are considering making a claim you should ideally contact a solicitor as soon as possible after the injury is sustained. There are investigations and other important steps that must be completed before a solicitor can issue your claim at court. You may therefore find it difficult to find a solicitor who will accept your claim if your first instructions to them are very close to the end of the limitation period.