What are limitation periods and how do they affect my claim?

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Commencement of Claims: What are limitation periods and how do they affect my claim?

The law of limitations outlines the timeframes within which legal proceedings must be brought. A limitation period is generally a timeframe after the expiry of which, parties are unable to pursue legal remedies. Section 3(1) of the Alberta Limitations Act, RSA 2000, c-L 12 outlines two limitation periods.

  1. Section 3(1)(a) stipulates that claimants must file their claims within 2 years from the date they had or ought to have had the following knowledge: (a) discovery of the injury, as opposed to the time of the event, (b) that his/her injury was in some way attributable to the conduct of the defendant, and (c) that the nature of his/her injury was such that it warranted bringing a proceeding. This limitation period relates to the “discoverability” of an action. In other words, a claim is “discovered” when a claimant obtains enough information to bring a legal action. Determining the commencement of this limitation period can be difficult and may require advice from a lawyer.

  2.  The second, longer limitation period is outlined in section 3(1)(b), which stipulates that a claim must be brought within 10 years of the event which forms the basis of the claim. This limitation period is not subject to the requirement of “discoverability.” The 10-year limitation clock will begin to run regardless of whether the claimant has “discovered” the reality of a legal action. This limitation period creates an absolute limit on a claimant’s ability to bring legal proceedings, upon the passing of 10 years from the date of the event forming the basis of the claim.

The Limitation Period Defense

The expiration of a limitation period is a complete defense to a claim. In other words, where a defendant raises a limitation period defense and the claimant fails to prove that the claim was filed within the relevant time period, the claimant loses the right to recover damages. Therefore, a claimant who has a reasonable legal claim but delays too long in filing the claim, could lose his/her opportunity to access justice.

The Drop-Dead Rule

Once an action has commenced, rule 4.33 of the Alberta Rules of Court stipulates that if 3 or more years have passed without a significant advance in the action, the Court, on application, must dismiss the action as against the applicant. The purpose of this rule is to dismiss an applicant’s claim for delay. The term “significant advance” is not defined in the Rules and therefore; the advice of a lawyer is strongly recommended when determining whether the Drop-Dead Rule may adversely affect an applicant. Commencing a claim is subject to certain deadlines, it is important you consult a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure your interests are protected. Depending on the facts of your specific matter, the limitations periods may be different. Contact us today if you have any questions or concerns regarding the limitation periods or rules that may apply to your claim.