COLUMN: Once limitation periods expire, ability to sue is lost

Limitation periods are cold and insensitive...

Limitation periods are cold and insensitive. In fact, it doesn’t matter how much is stolen from you or how badly you are injured; limitation periods simply do not care.

If the limitation period has expired, you’ve lost your ability to sue. If that weren’t daunting enough, recent legislative changes in B.C. have actually shortened the length of limitation periods in many instances.

Prior to June 1, 2013, the old BC Limitation Act imposed different limitation periods of two, six, or 10 years, depending on the legal nature of the claim. Typically, a limitation period would begin as soon as the illegal action occurred, but exceptions made it possible to postpone the start of the limitation period in certain scenarios.

The new Limitation Act makes several notable changes. First and foremost, it removes distinctions based on the legal nature of the claim by making all claims subject to a two-year limitation period. It also clarifies that the limitation period does not begin to run until the plaintiff discovers, or ought reasonably to have discovered, that injury or damage has occurred, and that a court proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek a remedy.

The new Limitation Act also reduces the “ultimate limitation period” – which describes the maximum outside time limit past which a limitation period cannot extend – from 30 to 15 years. Since limitation periods do not begin until a claim is discovered, absent an “ultimate limitation period,” it is conceivable that the ability to sue would never expire in situations where the damage or injury has not been detected. The “ultimate limitation period” eliminates this possibility, as it imposes an ultimate time limit regardless of whether or not damage has been discovered.

If you’ve been wronged – no matter how large or small – the clock is ticking. Despite the legislature’s best intentions, the new Limitation Act is still complicated. It is more important than ever that you see a lawyer who can advise you on the steps you need to take to ensure that time doesn’t run out before you get the compensation you deserve.

Doug is a partner with RDM Lawyers LLP. He practises in the areas of personal injury law, and labour and employment law. Comments about this article can be sent to