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The Limitation Game

When it comes to knowing the deadline for starting a construction or engineering claim, it can be a bit of a minefield. But if you get it wrong and miss the deadline, in all likelihood you will lose your right to make your claim. Lawyers call this “Limitation”.

All claims have a shelf life after which time they become obsolete. However the length of that shelf life and when it begins, are often not the easiest things to work out.

The 2 most common types of claim arising out of construction or engineering projects are (1) breach of contract claims and (2) negligence (tort) claims.

The limitation period for breach of contract claims is 6 years unless the contract is a Deed in which case it is 12 years. That 6/12 years starts from the date of the breach. What that date is will depend on the nature of the breach. Breaches for carrying out defective work for example often occur at the date of completion of those works. Design breaches often occur when the defective design is finalised.

In negligence (tort) claims the limitation period usually starts to run from the date that the damage caused by the act of negligence is suffered. Often that can occur some considerable time after the negligent act itself. Again the limitation period is 6 years.

You stop the limitation clock by starting a claim, ie by beginning litigation, arbitration, adjudication etc.

Working through limitation issues is not straightforward. There are also important exceptions to the above rules and other limitation periods for other types of claims.

For those who own and/or occupy a large property portfolio, claims they may have against contractors, architects, engineers etc in connection with the design and/or construction of those properties, are often nearly out of time when they come to light and so by the time they get to lawyers to advise on, they are at or past their shelf life.

So beware the high stakes at play in the Limitation Game.

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