Is there a time limit for bringing a claim?

There are time limits for bringing all types of claims for compensation before the civil courts.  For personal injury claims arising out of a childhood abuse, the time limit will be 3 years from the date of the harmful act.  If there was more than one incident, then each incident will have its own time limit?  However, the 3 year period will not start to run until the person injured becomes an adult on his or her 18th birthday.  Accordingly, people harmed in childhood will have until they are 21 to issue a claim at court.  If the claim is not brought in time, then a Defendant will seek to raise this as a complete defence to the claim and avoid paying any compensation.  So, apart from some very unusual cases, any compensation claim must be commenced before an injured person’s 21st birthday.  Different time limits apply to other types of claim, such as local authority complaints procedures or applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

What if the time limit has already passed?

Even if a 3 year time limit has already expired, it may well be worth investigating the possibility of still bringing a claim.  This is because the Judge will have a discretion to allow the claim to proceed out of time if he considers it fair to do so.

How will the Judge decide if a claim can proceed?

The Judge has a very wide discretion, but will be heavily influenced by the answers to the following questions: (a) why was the claim not brought within time? and (b) it is still possible for a Judge to decide the case fairly?

What reasons for the delay might the Judge consider acceptable?

A Claimant’s reasons for not bringing a claim earlier will, of course, vary from individual to individual.  Often Claimants will say that they did not know that they could claim until recently and it is certainly true that people are generally much more aware today that compensation claims can be brought for such matters than they were years ago.  Other people say that they were ashamed or tried to put it all behind them or did not think that they would be believed.  All of these are perfectly natural responses to being abused and this goes right to the heart of why the courts are much more generous in allowing child abuse claims to proceed out of time than they are with other types of claim.  The courts recognize that one of the consequences of child abuse is that the abuse itself can deter people from coming forward and that it would be very wrong to allow an abuser to somehow profit from this.  Accordingly, these are all usually treated by Judges as good reasons for a delay in bringing a claim.

What makes a trial fair?

The most important factor that the Judge will look into will be whether or not a fair trial is still possible at this point in time.  This encompasses considering pretty much anything and everything, but some commonly recurring arguments deployed by Defendants are: important witnesses have died or are otherwise no longer available, important documents have been lost and so much time has passed that memories have faded.  As against this, some factors which might persuade a judge to allow the claim to proceed would be: documents remain available, witnesses remain available, a criminal conviction against the abuser, previous investigations having been carried out by the police or others, the case being straightforward and a strong claim overall.

Conclusions

All cases will very much depend on their own facts and so it can be difficult to predict which claims will be allowed to proceed and which will not.  Accordingly, most claims will be worth investigating and the sooner, the better.

Justin Levinson