The Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980), s 11(4) lays out the time limits which prospective personal injury claimants must adhere, and its rules are strictly enforced by the courts. For workplace accidents, a claim must be brought within three years from either the date of the accident, or the date of knowledge of the injury.
On face value, one might ask why the date of the accident may differ from the date of knowledge. And, are there any exceptions to the three-year rule? In this article, we will address these, and some of the other frequently asked questions related to the timing of personal injury claims.
Are all claims subject to limitation?
Any personal injury case that includes a claim for damages as a result of any disease or impairment, whether a physical or mental condition, must be brought within the three-year timescale. A claim that is purely about economic loss, would not be included.
How can the date of the accident differ from the date of knowledge?
In most claims, the damage caused by an accident at work will be immediately apparent. And as such, the three-year period would start from that date (although strictly speaking, it is the following day, as parts of days are not recognised). In some situations, either when an accident happens, and any damage is not immediately apparent (e.g. concussion), or an occupational disease due to repeated exposure to a causal factor, the claimant is only aware of a problem in the days, weeks, months, or even years after the triggering event.
Under section 14 of the LA 1980, the date of knowledge is defined as, “the date on which a claimant first knew (or could reasonably have been expected to know):
- that their injury was significant
- that the injury was wholly or partly attributable to an act or failure on the defendant’s part
- the defendant’s identity
- if it is alleged that the injury was caused by someone other than the defendant, the identity of that person and any relevant additional facts supporting the bringing of an action against the defendant.”
In some cases, it might be deemed that the claimant has ‘constructive knowledge of the material facts’, meaning that the court believes that a reasonable person in the same position would have known of the existence of damage caused, perhaps by seeing a relevant expert (doctor, optician, or solicitor for example). If this happens to you, the three-year window starts from the date of constructive knowledge.
What has to happen within the three-year window?
There is often confusion regarding the significance of the three-year time window. This does not refer to when the claimant instructs a personal injury solicitor, it is when the application documents are received and time-stamped by the court; this is the date on which the claim is ‘brought’. The point at which the court formally receives the documents from your solicitor can be several weeks, depending on the speed in which they act, the complexity of your case, and the time it takes to gather all of the necessary information (including expert opinion if needed).
If it is getting very close to the expiry date to bring the claim, then it will be more important that a representative personally attends the court to ensure the papers are processed in time, and confirmation from the court is provided of this fact.
When does the three-year rule not apply?
The three-year rule will not be applicable if the claimant lacks the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, or if they are under 18.
Beyond this, there are a number of variations from the three-year rule, including:
- Accidents abroad: the law of the country in which the accident occurred will apply
- Animals: Some accidents involving animals are subject to a six-year limit
- Boats: If an accident occurs on a boat, the limit is two years (from death or disembarkation).
- Employment-related stress: three months
- Harassment: six years
- Radioactive matter: 30 years from date of last occurrence (or 20 years from date of theft if injured by stolen, jettisoned or abandoned waste)
- Human Rights Claims: 12 months.
Some of the examples above may not be common occurrences (especially if hurt by jettisoned radioactive matter), but this does illustrate that the law does make allowances in very specific circumstances regarding how long a claimant has to make a claim.
What should I do if I have exceeded the limitation period?
If you have already exceeded the timescale for a claim you are considering, or you are very close, contact one of our specialist personal injury solicitors today. We will listen to the facts of your case and advise you the limitation period that applies, and whether there is enough time remaining, or if there are special circumstances which we know from past experience have a strong chance of being considered as grounds for extending the limitation in your case.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered a workplace injury and would like a free claim assessment, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.