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Time To Get Moving: Time Limits on Professional Negligence Claims

In my last blog I provided an overview on claims for negligence against professionals, I mentioned that time limits may mean that you should not delay. In this blog I provide more details.

If you are considering bringing a negligence claim against a professional (such as a solicitor, barrister, an accountant, surveyor, or architect), any claim must be made within a certain time frame. This is called the limitation period. If you make a claim outside this time frame, then your claim may be statute-barred, and you will not be able to make claim. Corresponding with the professional will not stop time limits and you must lodge a claim within a relevant court. 

Key time limits to make your claim

There are, in general, two time limits on claims against professionals:

  • You usually have six years from the date of the breach of your contract by your professional within which to bring a claim or six years from actual damage (usually losses such as having an asset which is worth less than expected) and resulting from the negligent act by your professional. These periods are known as the ‘Primary Limitation’ period.
  • In some instances, it is not apparent that you have suffered financial loss at the hands of a negligent professional within the six-year period. If this is the case, then a ‘Secondary Limitation’ period will apply and, in this case, the relevant time limit period is three years from the date of knowledge of facts which might give rise to a claim. This period is known as the ‘Secondary Limitation’ period.

There is a long stop date of fifteen years within which claims must be brought.

To give an example about an actual case from our file:

Two parties bought a house in June 2004, and their relationship ended in 2019. There was a dispute between them about their respective share of the house. Their solicitors failed to advise them concerning their joint ownership and to draw up a formal document recording the share of the house they had verbally agreed in 2004.  The primary limitation period for the claim by one of the parties, who had instructed us, expired in 2010.

However, our client did not know about the claim until just before we were instructed in March 2019. Our client could use the secondary limitation period as our client only became aware of his potential claim against his conveyancing solicitors in March 2019. The 15 year long stop period did not expire until June 2019 and we advised him to lodge a claim pending negotiations with his former conveyance solicitors. We successfully settled the claim as it was brought within the statutory time limit. If the claim had been issued post June 2019, our client would not have been able to bring a claim against his former conveyance solicitors.

It can be difficult or complex in some cases to work out when the six year or three period starts running, and so if you think you have a claim against a professional, it is important to seek legal advice as quickly as possible,  As an example, on the three year time limit, the court will work what knowledge you had about the issues in your claim and this may well be different from when you think you knew that you had a right to bring a claim.