Under the Limitation Act 1980, strict time limits apply for bringing a personal injury claim – known as the “limitation period”. In most cases, you must bring your claim three years from the when the accident happened, or from the ‘date of knowledge’.
The date of knowledge is the date when you become aware how significant your injury is – which could be much later than the incident which caused your injuries. For example, you may have suffered an injury or contracted a disease that does not reveal itself until sometime after the actual date of the incident.
After this three-year period, a claim is what is known as ‘time-barred’ and you won’t be able to continue with it. The courts do have the option to extend this time limit but only if exceptional circumstances apply.
When deciding whether to grant an extension, the court will take a number of factors into consideration, such as:
When a child is injured, the three-year time limit does not apply. As person under the age of 18 is not able to pursue a compensation claim, so the law states that the time limit only comes into effect once they turn 18, at which point they can bring their own claim.
In some cases, the time between a child’s accident and their 18th birthday can be too long, and they might be suffering from the injuries caused by the accident, and the costs that come with it. For example, some cases might involve children who were injured in childbirth and need compensation to cover the cost of care for the rest of their lives. The sooner the case is launched, the sooner they can receive the compensation and financial support they may urgently need.
In this case, a parent or guardian can make a claim on the child’s behalf within three years, acting as what is known as a ‘litigation friend’. This is sometimes a better option because:
It can take many years before a child is fully recovered, if at all. The exception to the three-year limitation period might be preferable to the litigation friend option, as it allows plenty of time for the extent of an injury to a child to be known – which means they can get the full amount of compensation they need.
If someone lacks mental capacity as defined by the Mental Capacity Act – for example if they have an impairment of or a disturbance in the functioning of their mind or brain, which means they are unable to make decisions for themselves – then the usual rules on three-year time limitation doesn’t apply here.
If a person becomes disabled as a result of an accident, the time limits do not start to run until they recover. However, if they were of sound mind at the time of the injury, the limitation periods continue as normal even if they develop a mental disorder later on.
In some cases, injuries might be so severe that a claimant passes away, or they might pass away in completely unrelated causes. In any case, if a claimant dies within the three-year limitation period, this period is extended making it possible for the claimant’s family or solicitor to claim on their behalf.
Two different types of claim are possible in these circumstances:
In respect of a claim for the benefit of the family of the deceased, the claim may be brought by the administrators of the diseased person’s estate. The limitation period is three years from either the date of death or the date of knowledge of the deceased’s personal representatives, whichever is the later.
Those who can bring a claim on behalf of a dependent of the deceased include:
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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