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11 Aug 2022

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All the time in the world: Statute of Limitations - Lynch Solicitors

All the time in the world: Statute of Limitations - Lynch Solicitors

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The Statute of Limitations sets out the length of time a person has to claim a result of an action or omission that gives rise to the claim. 

Once the specified time has passed, an action can no longer be brought. 

The logic is grounded on common sense principles: after a certain length of time, it is impossible to get objective evidence – be it witnesses, people’s recollection, etc. 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.

1. Strict time limits

Under our legal system, there are strict time limits – known as “limitation periods” – within which you are entitled to begin court proceedings to sue for damages or other forms of remedy.

The consequences of failing to begin a court action within the allowed time limits are both stark and absolute:  your entitlement to redress vanishes the moment the limitation period expires.

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 exception where a person does not know that an injury is connected with a wrong committed by someone else.


2. Legal safeguard to prevent injustice

The law on the Limitations does include this safeguard to prevent limitation periods from expiring in unjust circumstances. 

As a result, in many medical negligence cases, the “date of knowledge” argument is often central to the case.

The “date of knowledge” ensures that the time limit does not run out before a person knew or ought to have known that they have an injury/action.


3. Date of Knowledge

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/damage is discovered.  This means that in situations where the injury may not be evident at first, the time limit for actions does not begin until the injured party is aware of the damage.

In case of medical negligence, a person may not know about the injury for some considerable time.

The “date of knowledge” ensures that the time limit does not run out before a person realises they have an injury/action.

The “date of knowledge” test provides that the two-year period within which one must bring a personal injury claim will not begin to run until the date upon which you become aware of all of the following pieces of information:

You have been injured.

The injury which you have suffered is significant.

The fault of someone else caused the injury.

The identity of the person who caused you the damage.


4. Does the Statute of Limitation apply to other areas of law?

The Statute of Limitation applies in almost all areas of law, for example,  in contract, property or employment cases.


Here are some examples of the time periods:

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 is taking an action

Unfair dismissal – 6 months


5. Afterthought 

It is essential to know that there is no “date of knowledge” safety net in non-personal injury litigation.

You need to be diligent in making sure that you do not fall foul of such time periods.  

It is also worth noting that there are significant problems in establishing how much time you have to take a claim in non-personal injury cases.

There have been several cases in our higher Courts that have grappled with the issue.

The unanimous conclusion in these cases has been that the Oireachtas needs to step in to clarify the situation.

However, this is a topic worth an article in itself.

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

More information can be found on Lynch Solicitors website.

The material 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.

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