Personal Injury
By Conal McGarrity
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The Limitation Period for Personal Injury Cases in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland

The limitation period in Northern Ireland is governed under The Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. Generally, the limitation period runs for three years from the date of injury or, three years from the date of knowledge (i.e. when a claimant first had knowledge of all of the following):

Northern Ireland

  • The injury in question was significant i.e. would reasonably have considered it serious enough to justify instituting legal proceedings;

  • Injury was wholly or partly attributable to an act or failing on the defendant’s part;

  • Of the defendant’s identity, and

  • Of the identity of that person and any relevant additional facts, if it is alleged that the injury was caused by someone other than the defendant

 There are instances where personal injury claims can fall outside the three-year limit, such as accidents abroad and accidents incurred while travelling internationally. Nonetheless, majority of the time the court will look at the date of knowledge which is mostly used in cases involving industrial disease and medical negligence. The court will look at the claimant’s knowledge of the incident and anything that they might reasonably believe have been expected to discover themself or with the help of expert advice, will be taken into account. Therefore, time will start running from this date of knowledge if the Court is satisfied that claimant reasonably could and should have ascertained the information listed above.

However, the Court have power to extend the time limit under art.50 of The Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989. In personal injury claims the court has a wide discretion to override the usual three-year limitation period where it appears equitable to do so. During this process, the Court will balance the degree to which both the claimant and defendant could be prejudiced, in particular;

  • The length of and reasons for any delay;

  • The extent to which evidence is likely to be less convincing than it would if the claim had been brought in time;

  • The conduct of the defendant after the cause of action arose and the way in which they responded to any reasonable requests from the claimant for information which might assist in establishing a cause of action i.e. a complaint against a doctor or a Trust.

  • The duration of any disability suffered by the claimant after the date of accrual

  • The extent to which the claimant acted promptly and reasonably once they knew that the act or omission of the defendant might be capable of giving rise to an action for damages

  • The steps taken by the claimant to obtain medical, legal or other expert advice and the nature of the advice received

 There are different rules that apply to minors and claimants under the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. For minors, time does not start running until they reach their 18th birthday. Thereafter, the claimant has a further 3 years to bring a claim forward. Regarding persons of unsound mind, time will not start running if they were disabled at the date when the action occurred i.e. if a person is disabled as a result of an accident, time will not start to run until their recovery.

Republic of Ireland

The rule in Republic of Ireland is similar in nature. However, time starts running two years from the injury. It is therefore important that an injured party talks to a solicitor at the earliest practical opportunity following an accident. In the case of minors (under the age of eighteen) a person has two years from the date of their eighteenth birthday however, it is advisable to take action as soon as is practicable to avoid any unnecessary delay. There are however exceptions governed by the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 1991. This occurs in circumstances where there the date of the wrong/injury takes place differs from the date that the wrong/injury is discovered i.e. Medical Negligence claims.

The second exception revolves around cases involving asbestos exposure and industrial disease. Due to the nature of asbestos-related injuries, those affected may have no knowledge that they have contracted an asbestos-related injury such as mesothelioma for many years after exposure. In these circumstances, the two-year time limit starts from when the claimant becomes aware that they had contracted an asbestos-related injury.

Claims regarding industrial disease will also follow the same framework. Personal injury such as repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, the Statute of Limitations will start from the day on which the claimant is diagnosed with an injury which is attributable to the negligence of a party who owed them a duty of care i.e. employer’s duty of care to their employee.

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