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Time limits for personal injury claims

How long do I have to make a claim for an injury?

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:

  • The length of and reasons for any delay
  • Whether the evidence would be weakened by the delay
  • The conduct of the defendant after the cause of action arose, including how co-operative they were in providing the you with information
  • The duration of any disability you suffered after the date of accrual
  • The steps you took to obtain medical, legal or other expert advice and the nature of the advice received

Claims time limits for children

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:

  • the claim can be made while evidence is still available
  • the incident and the events leading up to it are still fresh in the minds of those involved

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.

Find out more about personal injury claims involving children

Claims time limits for adults who lack mental capacity

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.

What if someone dies before a personal injury claim is settled?

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:

  • A claim brought by the deceased’s estate under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934
  • A claim on behalf of the dependents of the deceased pursuant to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976

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:

  • The deceased’s spouse or civil partner
  • The deceased’s cohabitee (provided the parties lived together together for at least two years immediately before the deceased’s death
  • The deceased’s parents or anyone who was treated by the deceased as their parent
  • Any child or descendant of the deceased or person treated as such
  • Brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts of the deceased, or any of their children
  • To bring a claim, you would need to show that you were, or were likely to become, dependent (financially or otherwise) upon the deceased.

Other Important Information

*No Win No Fee

  • Although all our cases are handled on a no win no fee basis, other costs could be payable upon solicitors request. These will be fully explained to you before you proceed. Most customers will pay 25% (including VAT) of the compensation they are awarded to their law firm, although this may vary based on individual circumstances. Your solicitor may arrange for insurance to be in place for you to make sure your claim is risk free. Termination fees based on time spent may apply, or in situations such as: lack of cooperation or deliberately misleading our solicitors, or failing to go to any medical or expert examination, or court hearing.
  • *Criminal Injury Claims

  • If you want to make a claim for a criminal injury, you are not required to use the services of a claims management company to pursue the claim. You can submit your claim for free on your own behalf, directly to the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (England, Wales, and Scotland) or the Criminal Injury Compensation Scheme (Northern Ireland).
About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

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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