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As a general rule, claims relating to personal injuries in England and Wales usually have to be commenced in the courts within three years of an injury occurring (Section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980). For example, if you suffered an injury at work, the three-year time limit begins to run from the date of the accident. Any claim for personal injury damages must either be settled before the third anniversary of the accident or incident, or the claim must be brought at court before that date.

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Date of knowledge

In other cases, such as industrial disease cases (for example, if you suffer Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) following employment as a commercial tyre fitter) where symptoms may not appear for years after the actual event/exposure, the courts will look at the persons “date of knowledge”. This is the date the claimant knew, or is deemed by the court as should have known, that he has suffered a significant injury which could have been caused by the defendants negligent act or omission. In these cases, the claimant has three years from the deemed “date of knowledge” in which to commence their case in the courts. The court does have the discretion to extend the three-year time limit. But it is important to note it is not often that the courts will exercise such discretion.

When will the court use its discretion to disapply the time limit?

Under the Limitations Act 1980, section 33, the court has the authority to override the three-year limitation period if it is fair and reasonable to do so and in certain circumstances. In arriving at this decision the court will consider several factors, including:

(a) The length of, and reason for, the claimant’s delay;

(b) The extent to which the cogency of evidence has been affected by the delay;

(c) The conduct of the defendant after the cause of action arose;

(d) The duration of any disability of the claimant arising after the date of the accident;

(e) The extent to which the claimant acted promptly and reasonably once he knew whether an alleged breach of duty might be capable of giving rise to a claim; and

(f) The steps taken by the claimant to obtain expert advice and the nature of any advice received.

Ultimately, section 33 asks if it is fair and just to allow the claim to proceed out of time. The burden is on the claimant to show it is fair and just and the court must strike a balance between the degree to which the claimant and defendant may be prejudiced by allowing a compensation claim to be brought out of time.

Exceptions to the ability for the courts to exercise discretion under the Limitation Act 1980

There are some instances where the court cannot exercise any discretion to extend the time period allowed to bring a personal injury compensation claim:

  • Defective products – The Limitation Act 1980, section 11A, introduces a 10-year rule for claiming compensation for a defective product. This is an absolute rule, and it makes no difference if the claimant only acquired the date of knowledge after the 10-year period – the court is powerless to extend it.
  • Fatal Accidents Claims – Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, a compensation claim may be brought within three years from the date of death or, if later, the date of knowledge. The court has no ability to extend this under the Limitations Act 1980, section 33.
  • Merchant Shipping Act – the court does not have a discretion to disapply the limitation period in claims under the Merchant Shipping Act 1985.

Limitation periods for different types of personal injury claims

Does the three-year limitation period apply to all types of personal injury claims? In short, the answer to this question is no. The limitation period does vary depending on the type of claim being pursued.

Claims made on behalf of Minors

In personal injury claims involving minors, a child under the age of 18, the 3 year limitation period will not start to run until the claimant reaches the age of 18. For example, if an 8 year old child suffers injuries in a road traffic accident then the 3 year limitation period will not start to run until that child reaches the age of 18 and in effect will have until the day before his 21st birthday in which to have settled his claim for personal injury damages or to commence his claim at court. This helps to protect children from any exploitation which they might be vulnerable to had they brought a claim at an earlier age.

Human Right Act claims

In some cases, an individual may seek to make a claim for damages caused by the negligence of a medical professional under the Human Rights Act 1998, which would have to be made against a public body or authority such as the armed forces or the NHS. In this circumstance, the time limit would be 1 year from the date that their rights were breached.

Accidents at Sea

Where an accident occurs at sea, or on water the general rule is that the limitation period is two years from the date that the damage occurs.

Aviation Claims/International Travel

If an accident is on an aircraft the time limit in which to bring a claim is two years.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) Claims

When a person has been a victim of a crime, they may be able to bring a claim for Criminal Injuries Compensation. The CICA require claims to be submitted within two years of the incident suffered.

Armed Forces Compensation Claims (AFCS)

The AFCS covers injuries caused by service in or after 6 April 2005. The time limit to bring a claim through the AFCS is seven years from when the person sustained their injury, or if making a claim for mental health including PTSD the time limit is seven years of first seeking medical help for their condition.

It is always best to check with a specialist personal injury solicitor the correct limitation period.


In any claim for personal injury damages, it is our advice to act quickly and to instruct a specialist personal injury solicitor as soon as possible. Three years may sound a long time but it can pass quickly. The sooner a claim is made, in most instances, the more straightforward it could be to get hold of certain pieces of evidence.

There is no certainty that the court will disapply the limitation period and from our experience only does so in exceptional circumstances. If you would like to find out more about pursuing a claim for compensation then get in touch today on 0161 399 1231.

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