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Monday, 13 August 2012

Well, baby, baby, baby, you're out of time

I used to have a recurring nightmare. I was running to court with a pile of writs under my arm – it was a long time ago! As I arrived at court I metal shutter came down with the words – ‘Too Late’. As I turned round there was a gathering of clients, judges, lawyers all shaking their heads. All this was against the background of the Rolling Stones classic – Out of Time.

Thankfully I no longer have the bad dream but it is true to say that time-limits for bringing claims to court can be a headache.

Many of us have calls and texts asking if we have had an accident in the last three years. And that is the norm. If I get hit by a bus today, then I have three years from today to bring an action in court. Unless I am only 16, unlikely but stay with me, in which case I have five years until my 21st birthday, as the three years clock doesn’t start until I am 18.

Or let’s say the injury doesn’t seem to be serious until two years have passed then the three years might not start until then. In all of these cases the courts can exercise some discretion.

It is even less clear if I am on a cruise holiday when I have an accident. Under the Athens convention I only have two years. The same applies with most accidents in the air where the limit is two years under the Montreal Convention. This has even been applied in the case of someone injured in a ballooning accident. If I have an accident abroad the time limit might be governed by local law. In parts of Spain it is just one year. But if I booked a package tour I may be able to bring a claim in this country. I explained these Regulations in an earlier blog –

If you sue in this country then you will have three years – unless you are only 16 etc etc!!

The point of all this is that time limits are a minefield. Lawyers get them wrong. It is one of the greatest sources of negligence claims against lawyers.

This, once again, demonstrates how imperative it is to get good legal advice. The impending decimation of the legal aid scheme and the massive hurdles facing no win no fee litigants mean that ordinary people will be expected to bring their own claims. And many of these time limits are unforgiving. If a defendant waits until 3 years and a day have passed and then tell you that you are too late, they may be right. There will be injustice.

But if you do have an accident it pays to get advice right away.

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