You only have a certain time within which to bring a professional negligence claim or any legal claim for that matter. It is called a limitation period.

As I speak to clients, I have noticed they are becoming increasingly aware that limitation periods are important and – regrettably - confusing. You would have thought there would be one limitation period to make things easy but unfortunately life, and in particular, law, is not that simple.

Just to get you utterly confused, there are two potential dates in a negligence claim. Oh, and don’t forget there’s also the longstop date which actually makes it three different negligence dates. Personal injury claims are also considered a form of negligence but they have a different limitation period again which changes if you have the accident in a plane or on a ship! And don’t get me started on defamation which has another different time limit all together.

Contract is easy, right? Not really. If you have a basic contract then, if you intend to sue on it, it must be done within six years. But what if it is a contract signed and witnessed as a deed?

I mention all these problems with limitation periods because recently, I have had a bevy of cases where limitation periods have become quite important. I will give you some details although obviously, I have changed all the names of the clients.

The first one is a personal injury professional negligence claim in respect of a missed limitation period. Mrs Brennan was travelling by plane and was injured when an air hostess ran over her foot with a trolley. (I must admit to having winced at that!). Mrs Brennan suffered a nasty injury and went along to a solicitor to bring a compensation claim for those injuries. The solicitor did very well. He got the insurance company to admit liability at a very early stage; it was just the amount of damages to be paid that was the subject of debate. As the claim got closer to the standard three year limitation period for a personal injury claim, the solicitor protected Mrs Brennan’s interests by issuing court proceedings which stops time from running.

I must admit to really feeling for the chap when, having served the papers on the other side, he received a letter from them pointing out that he was out of time and the accident claim was statute barred under the Limitation Act. His stomach must have gone down to his feet and then back up again lodging firmly in his throat when, on researching the law, he realised that claims for an injury that occurred either on a plane or on a ship has a two year limitation period, not three. Needless to say, I am now suing him for professional negligence and the compensation my client would have been awarded for her PI case if the injury claim hadn’t gone wrong and been made out of time.

So what about the contract one? Mr Baker’s company had an overdraft with the bank. As it was a small company, the bank insisted that Mr Baker sign a personal guarantee. This was about seven or eight years ago.

The company subsequently folded and the bank called in the guarantee. Mr Baker 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 Baker 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.

And then there are the negligence claim time limits. Mrs Cronquist telephoned me to see if she could bring a claim against her negligent conveyancing solicitor. When she and her husband bought the property, the solicitor told them that they owned a piece of land. In fact, it turned out that he had misunderstood the title documents and they did not own the land, something that was made abundantly clear when, after erecting a wall on the land, Mr & Mrs Cronquist were served with papers by an irate neighbour claiming trespass. Mr & Mrs Cronquist had to pay huge legal costs as a result of the solicitor’s mistake.