If you are considering commencing proceedings for a cause of action that occurred in the past, you should check that you are still within the limitation period. Limitation periods prevent parties from bringing an action later than a given period. The length varies between different causes of action. This article sets out the key points to take into account when dealing with limitation periods.

Why Do Limitation Periods Exist?

Limitation periods exist to protect defendants. They operate under the principle that the longer it takes for an action to come before the courts, the less efficient the administration of justice becomes. If the event occurred too long ago, the defendant might have lost the evidence necessary to defend themselves.

Further, key witnesses might not be available and documents might be lost or destroyed. It also incentivises parties to pursue potential claims diligently and in time.

Examples of Limitation Periods

Limitation periods operate across various areas and jurisdictions. Before commencing legal proceedings, it is essential you check the relevant legislation to see if any limitation periods apply. Below are some examples of common limitation periods.

Cause of Action Limitation
General contractual claims Six years from the date on which the cause of action accrues.
Contractual claims concerning a deed 12 years from the date on which the cause of action accrues.
Negligence Six years from the date on which the cause of action accrues.
Defamation One year from the date of publication.


For example, if you have a supplier contract and the supplier breaches that contract by failing to deliver the right products to you, you cannot wait 10 years to bring a claim against them. You have to do this within six years of the date of the breach.

Similarly, if a newspaper publishes an article about you that is defamatory, you have to begin proceedings within one year of the publication date.

The Court’s Discretion

A court has the discretion to hear a case even if the limitation period has expired. In this case, it is up to the person asking for the extension to prove that the limitation period should be extended. The court will need to decide whether it is necessary to extend the limitation period, having regard to the person’s circumstances. Specifically, it will consider:

  • whether it is possible to have a fair trial given the length of the delay;
  • the reason for the delay;
  • the length of the delay; and
  • the disadvantages to the defendant.

The court will not grant an extension just because the person asking for one would have succeeded had they filed the claim within the limitation period. Instead, the court needs to examine why a party did not file the claim earlier and whether a fair trial is still possible.

Key Takeaways

Limitation periods exist to protect defendants from being sued for events that happened a long time ago. Limitation periods operate in a range of areas and jurisdictions. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of them before commencing legal proceedings.

If you have a question about limitation periods, get in touch with LegalVision’s litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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