Generally in British law there is a three year limitation period that applies to claims for damages for personal injury.
This means that if a claim has not been settled or court proceedings commenced by the third anniversary of an accident then the claim is likely to be “statute barred” in other words it cannot proceed as it is out of time.
The three year time limit is quite simple in accident claims as it runs from the date of the accident to the third anniversary of that date.
The situation is much more complicated in industrial disease claims as they are also subject to the three year limit but when does the three years start to run?
The Limitation Act says that the three years starts to run from when the person making the claim has certain knowledge. That knowledge is:-
a) The injury in question was significant (this does not mean serious it means more than trivial).
b) The injury is attributable in whole or in part to the act or omission which is alleged to constitute negligence, nuisance or breach of duty, and
c) The identity of the defendant.
Once a person has this knowledge it is referred to as their “date of knowledge” and the three years runs from that date.
What does this mean in practical terms? Let us say that a person becomes aware that their hearing is defective, they have worked in a noisy work environment and they visit their GP complaining of the problem with their hearing and their GP suggests that it may be due to their exposure to high levels of noise at work.
Whilst establishing a person’s date of knowledge cannot be exact in the above example the date of the visit to the GP would probably constitute the person date of knowledge and they would then have three years to bring a claim for noise induced hearing loss from that date.
The court does have a discretion to not allow a claim to be struck out for being out of time but whether the court will exercise its discretion will depend very much on the reason for a person not brining a claim within the three years and how far they are past the three year period.
It is never advisable to have to rely on the courts discretion so as soon as you think you may have a claim for an industrial disease consult a solicitor do not delay as delay may prevent you from having a successful claim.
There are exceptions to the three year time limit the most common one that I come across is children. Where someone is under the age of 18 at the time of the accident the three year time limit does not start to run until their 18th birthday and therefore expires on their 21st birthday.
More obscure exceptions to the three year time limit are claims for people injured when passengers on ships or aircraft. These are covered not by UK law but be international conventions and in both cases the time limit is not three years but only two!
The biggest mistake that anyone can make is to delay making a claim taking the view that there is no rush as they have three years. The longer you leave making a claim the more difficult it is to investigate.
Witnesses memories fade over time, people move and cannot be traced, vital documentary evidence may no longer be available.
My advice to anyone involved in an accident or who believes they may be suffering from an industrial disease is contact me as quickly as possible. The sooner I can start investigating an accident the better the prospects of the claim being successful.
The golden rule is “if in doubt ask” don’t delay call me on 0191 375 3938 to discuss your potential claim as soon as possible. There is no charge for discussing a potential claim and no obligation.
Some solicitors actually make it a rule that they will not take on a claim if there is less than 12 months to go till the limitation period expires. I don’t have such a hard and fast rule so even if the claim is well into the limitation period still give me a call!