The Limitation Act 1980 sets out various time limits for bringing a claim, after which point the claim is time barred. For example, a breach of contract claim must be brought within 6 years. Other statutes set out their own time limits. A claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1979 must be brought within 6 months of the grant of probate being taken out.
The courts have always been pretty strict with these time limits and require a very good reason for the claim to be allowed to continue.
So, what is the position at the current time?
Courts are generally being pragmatic with regard to the effects of Covid-19. However, it is safe to say that judges will not be allowing it to become a blanket excuse for all delays.
The courts have been increasingly flexible regarding court deadlines in recent weeks. A new Practice Direction (PD51ZA) has been introduced allowing parties to agree extensions of time if necessary due to Covid-19. These newly relaxed rules would apply to court ordered dates for matters such as exchanging of witness statements however they do not apply to statutory limitation periods.
So, what should be done if you are struggling to issue a claim in time?
The best answer is to try to issue the claim if at all possible.
With the availability of phone calls/post/internet/emails, being in quarantine at home is unlikely to be a good reason for failing to bring a claim in time. Even if some of the details are unclear, a claim can be brought and an application to amend it can be made at a later date. Remember also that it is the claim form that must be issued within the limitation period. There is then a four-month period to serve the claim form and particulars of claim upon the defendant.
The next best option would be to agree a standstill with the opponent.
This means that they will not raise limitation as an issue in their defence. However, limitation is a matter for the courts. Recent caselaw has shown that even if the parties agree a standstill, the court may overrule this and decide the claim is statute barred.
If neither of these are possible, an application should be made, as soon as possible, for permission to bring the claim out of time.
This should provide clear reasons for the delay with supporting evidence.
There are no reported cases as yet, but courts are likely to take a common-sense approach. The Claimant in hospital seriously ill with Covid-19 for several weeks will be treated very differently from someone in isolation in their home, with a phone and broadband.
To sum up, while there have been calls for limitation periods to be extended, it is very much “business as usual” and the courts are still likely to require very good reason to allow a claim to be brought out of time.
If you or someone you know requires assistance in bringing a claim, we are offering an initial, complimentary, no obligations virtual consultation with one of our legal experts for the month of May. Simply call us on 0800 999 4437 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today to discuss the best option for you.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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