Our lives are inundated with deadlines and time limits. Some time limits make events more exciting, such as the game show Minute to Win It where contestants have a minute to do silly tasks like balance six dice on a Popsicle stick held in their mouth. However more often than not, time limits are annoying but necessary for getting things accomplished. Even this morning my daughter reminded me that today was the deadline to purchase school photos or there was a penalty. I took her word for it and quickly filled out the forms while rushing out the door. Lawsuits are no exception. There are strict time limits for filing lawsuits, called limitation periods, which must be adhered to or you will give up your right to claim compensation.
Often I will get calls from clients who are considering pursuing legal action, only for them to be told that they are too late and there is nothing I can do. This is always disappointing news to provide and the response I often get is “I had no idea I had a time limit!”
Lawsuits have varying limitation periods depending on the type and specific facts of the case. As a result, it is important to get good advice from a lawyer in the relevant practice area. If you miss the deadline you will give up your right to claim compensation. The good news is that many lawyers will not charge you for this advice, at least in the personal injury context. As a result, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making early contact with a lawyer. Even if you’re not sure you want to commence a lawsuit, if you get this small, but vital piece of advice, you will at least know the last date you have to make the choice to sue or not.
One common mistake I see clients make is that they assume that because they notified the insurance company they have done everything they need to do. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Even if you have been negotiating directly with the insurance company or you have appealed a decision of the insurance company using its appeal process (which is common in long term disability claims), those actions do not stop the limitation clock from ticking and you may find yourself out of time. Although there are some exceptions, generally speaking nothing stops the clock except the filing of the lawsuit.
Another mistake I see clients make is deciding not to contact a lawyer because they do not think they have been too badly hurt, they are going to wait and see how they recover, or the insurance adjuster told them they don’t need a lawyer. While the wait and see approach can be a good strategy, this is only after receiving advice about the limitation period. For example, if your claim is against the City or Municipality, s.286 of the Local Government Act requires you to put them on notice of your claim within 2 months from the date in which the damage was sustained. While the Court can overrule this requirement, you do not want to be in a position of adding additional hurdles to your claim.
Most personal injury cases have a 2 year limitation period (long term disability claims a 1 year limitation period), but do not assume that is the limitation period in your case. As mentioned in the example above, the limitation period can be significantly shorter or in some cases longer. In addition, if you are in a car accident, there are certain forms and information that needs to be provided to ICBC within set time limits or you may also give up your right to accident benefits.
In conclusion, don’t wait to find out the deadline to file your lawsuit or you may miss it. If there is even a remote possibility that you may want to commence an action, you need to find out your limitation period and if there is anything else you need to do to protect yourself. Even if you think you have missed your limitation period, be sure to talk to a lawyer as sometimes there are exceptions.
*Important Note: The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.