The time limits within which you can bring a civil action in Ireland are set out in the Statute of Limitations, 1957, as amended by the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Acts, 1991 and 2000.
However, other limitation periods are set out in the Civil Liability Act, 1961, the Liability for Defective Products Act 1991 and the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.
If an action is not commenced within the limitation period, it will become statute barred and the defendant will have a good defence to the claim.
In general, when calculating the time period, it commences on the date that the cause of action occurred. However, there are exceptions eg if the plaintiff is under a disability, where the defendant is deceased, where claims have to be submitted to the Injuries Board in the first instance and in certain personal injury actions where the plaintiff only discovers at a later date that they have a cause of action.
Actions in Tort
A tort is a civil wrong. Generally, the limitation period for bringing such an action is 6 years.
However some torts such as negligence, nuisance or breach of duty and involving personal injury or an action for slander have different limitation periods.
Actions for Personal Injury Based on Negligence, Nuisance or Breach of Duty
Actions in this category must be brought within 2 years of
a) The date on which the cause of action accrued or
b) The date on which the Plaintiff first had knowledge of the injury, that the injury was significant, and the identity of the defendant.
When the plaintiff had the requisite knowledge as defined in section 2 of the Statue of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991:
Fatal Injury Actions
Actions for fatal injury claims must be brought within 2 years of the date of death.
An action for trespass to the person or assault and battery must be brought within 6 years of the accrual of the cause of action.
An action for defamation (including libel and slander) can be brought within one year as set out in the Defamation Act, 2009. There is a possibility of having this extended to two years on application to Court.
Actions founded on contract or quasi-contract must be brought within 6 years of the breach of contract
Actions for the recovery of debts (liquidated sums) are based on contract and actions can be brought within 6 years of when the sum became due.
However, this can be changed if the debtor acknowledges the debt after it becomes due or he makes a part payment. The right of action in these circumstances will be deemed to have accrued on the date of acknowledgement of the debt or on the date of part payment.
This applies regardless of whether the statutory period has expired or not.
1.2 Defective Motor Vehicles
Claims for defective motor vehicles must be brought within 2 years of the date on which the cause of action accrued.
Actions for defective products must be brought within 3 years of either
a) The date of accrual of the cause of action or
b) The date on which you had knowledge of the defect, damage, and producer of the product.
Recovery of Land
Actions for the recovery of land must be brought within 12 years from the accrual of the right of action.
Actions against the Estate of a Deceased Person
These must be brought within 2 years of the death of the deceased person unless the proceedings were commenced within the relevant statutory period and were pending at the date of death.
When does time begin to run?
The limitation period begins to run from the date of accrual of the cause of action.
Extension of the Limitation Period
Calculating the limitation period can be altered in certain limited circumstances eg
- Fraud of the defendant-time begins to run when the fraud is discovered or when it could have been discovered with reasonable diligence
- Where the plaintiff is under a disability.
A person is under a disability according to the Statute of Limitations, 1957 when they are
1) A minor
2) A person of unsound mind
3) A convict subject to the Forfeiture Act, 1870.
This definition was expanded by the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 2000 to cover victims of sexual abuse.
A person under a disability can bring an action within the prescribed period of ceasing to be under the disability.
Personal Injury Assessment Board Act, 2003
A claim for personal injuries or a fatal injuries claim needs to be first made to the Injuries Board.
Once an application is acknowledged by the Injuries Board the limitation period stops running; but it recommences six months from the date of a letter of authorisation from the Injuries Board.
When Does Time Stop Running?
Time stops running when legal proceedings have been instituted.
This will depend on which Court you commence proceedings in.
District Court: when a Civil Summons has been sent by post to the Defendant or sent to a Summons Server
Circuit Court: when a Civil Bill or Personal Injuries Summons is issued
High Court: when the summons is issued out of the central office of the High Court.
If you think that you have a cause of action for a wrong done to you, it is essential that you see a solicitor as soon as possible so that any action taken is not ‘statute barred’ and is taken within the time prescribed under the law.
Dismissal for delay or want of prosecution
A court can dismiss proceedings if they are not resolved withing a reasonable time. The Master of the High Court can make an order to dismiss an action with costs for want of prosecution. This can also occur if there has not been a proceeding for 2 years since the last proceeding or where the plaintiff fails to attend for trial.
The Courts can also dismiss a claim for delay or want of prosecution where the interests of justice require it.
Defence of Statute Barred
It’s worth noting that a plaintiff reserves the right to bring legal proceedings even if they are statute barred and out of time. The defendant must plead the statute of Limitations as a defence in these circumstances, or the Court cannot consider whether the case is out of time or not.
It can also occur that the Defendant can be estopped from pleading the statute of Limitations if the defendant or his agent lead the plaintiff, through conduct or words, to believe it would not be pleaded.