The limitation period is the length of time you have to issue a legal claim in court before the case becomes statute barred. For professional negligence claims for example, the basic period is six years from the date of the error. For most personal injury claims it is three years.
That might sound straightforward enough, but as with many legal principles, it isn't quite that simple. In the case of the professional negligence claim, not all mistakes are immediately apparent. Some don't come to light until much later. In these situations the limitation period is three years from the 'date of knowledge'. This then raises a new question as to when the date of knowledge was.
Identifying the correct limitation date can therefore require considerable legal knowledge and insight, particularly as different areas of law have different limitation dates.
Limitation periods are vitally important. If a limitation date is missed it can have fatal consequences for the legal case. More often that not there is no way back for the claimant after missing a limitation date and their chance of pursuing justice evaporates.
It is therefore not surprising that solicitors have sleepness nights worrying about limitation dates. Regretably mistakes are made, leaving the solicitor's client asking, 'Can I claim compensation if my solicitor missed a limitation date?'
To answer that question we will usually need to look at the specific facts of the case. However, in general if a solicitor fails to advise you on the need to issue court proceedings to avoid missing a limitation date it is likley that you will be able to claim compensation from them.
Below are some examples of recent cases involving solicitors who have missed a limitation date, leading to compensation claims being made against them.
Personal injury claim limitation date missed
A woman was travelling by plane and suffered injury when an air hostess ran over her foot with a trolley. The woman went along to a solicitor to bring a claim for her injuries. The solicitor got the airline's insurance company to admit liability at a very early stage. It was then just the amount of compensation to be paid that was the subject of debate. As the claim got closer to the standard three year limitation period for an injury claim, the solicitor protected his client's case by issuing court proceedings. This stops time from running and prevents the case from becoming statute barred.
The solicitor then received a letter from the airline's solicitors, pointing out that the claim was out of time. The accident claim was statute barred under the Limitation Act. The claimant's solicitor had not realised that claims for an injury that occur either on a plane or on a ship have a two year limitation period, not three.
The solicitor was then sued for being negligent. He had to pay his client the compensation she would have been awarded for her PI case if the injury claim hadn’t gone wrong.
Solicitor's Personal Guarantee time limit error
Mr D’s company had an overdraft with the bank. As it was a small company, the bank insisted that Mr D sign a personal guarantee. This was about seven or eight years ago. The company subsequently folded and the bank called in the guarantee.
Mr D went to see his solicitor who scoffed at the claim saying that the guarantee was over six years old and so the bank was out of time.
At the solicitor’s insistence, Mr D defended the bank’s court proceedings. Unfortunately he lost and had to meet the guarantee and pay all the banks legal costs as well. Why? A guarantee has a twelve year time limit which commences on default of the contract – not from the date the guarantee was entered into. Again the solicitor faced a compensation claim from his client.
Standstill Agreement error results in solicitor missing limitation date
A gentleman had problems with a negligent conveyancing solicitor, so instructed another firm to bring a claim against them. The first thing the new solicitors noticed was that, at the time they were instructed the limitation period on the claim was about to expire. The new solicitors contacted the original firm and invited them to enter into a Limitation Standstill Agreement, which they agreed to do.
A standstill agreement, for all intents and purposes, extends the limitation period by agreement between the parties. The agreement was drawn up and was said to last for three months. At the end of the three months, the limitation period would expire unless another agreement was entered into, which is exactly what the parties did. They used the same agreement as before, just updating it. In fact, they did it a total of four times, extending the limitation period each time.
For various reasons, the client had to instruct a new firm of solicitors and chose us. His solicitors sent the file over to us. There were four standstill agreements, all back to back, which had extended the limitation period. However, on closer inspection, we noticed that there was a mistake. The Standstill Agreements had all been carefully drafted stating that they related to a claim that our client was going to bring against his former conveyancing solicitors for purchase of "5 Mawdsley Avenue". The problem was that he had actually purchased "75 Mawdsley Avenue".
Such a tiny, little mistake; such huge consequences. The Standstill Agreements were invalid. The limitation period therefore expired ages ago. The second set of solicitors had been negligent and we were instructed to pursue a negligence claim against them.
How we can help you claim compensation if your solicitor has missed a limitation date
We hope these case studies have helped you understand how limitation works and the problems that can arise. If you think your solicitor has missed a limitation date, contact us now to arrange a free case assessment. Call 0808 139 1595 or email us at email@example.com