How long after an accident can I claim compensation?

Technically most claimants have up to 3 years after an accident to start a personal injury claim.  In reality it does not work like this and there are any number of exceptions.  Find out your claim limitation date with our online calculator.

How long do I have to file a claim?

What is the 'limitation period'?

According to section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980), the time 'limitation period' for a personal injury claim is 3 years from the date of the injury or date of knowledge, whichever comes later.

Essentially this means that when the Claimant's  injury is the result of an accident, and the claimant was aware of their injuries from that date, the three year deadline starts from the date of the accident.

If, however, the injury or illness is diagnosed at a later date, then the three year deadline starts from the date of knowledge.

So it's simple - I have up to 3 years to make a claim?

Technically yes, but in the real world no.

As we shall discuss, there are any number of exceptions and real world considerations that can drastically reduce, or increase, the amount of time you have to make a claim (the 'limitation period'). 

Exceptions to the 3 year rule

Although most claims must be made within the standard limitation period, there are a number of exceptions to the three-year rule.

In addition to the special circumstances listed below, the court may, in very rare circumstances, make an exception to the limitation period

Injury claims for children

A parent, guardian or other suitable "litigation friend" can make an injury claim on behalf of a child at any time up to the date of the child's 18th birthday. The date of the child's accident, or date of knowledge, could have occurred at any time prior to the date the child turns eighteen.

If a claim is not made on the child's behalf, someone who was injured before their 18th birthday has three years from that date, up to the date of their 21st birthday, to make an injury claim themselves.

Fatal injury or illness

Close family members may be able to make an injury claim on behalf of a person who has died as the result of another party's negligence.

Provided that the limitation period has not run out during the lifetime of the deceased person, the family's limitation period of another three years commences from the date of death.

The cause of death may only be discovered at a later date, such as following a post-mortem. In these circumstances, the three-year period is considered to apply from this date of knowledge.

The three year limitation period for fatal injury claims applies regardless whether the deceased person had started an injury claim themselves at an earlier date.

Claims in foreign countries

It may still be possible to make a claim following injury or illness outside the UK, however the time limits can vary.

Package holidays

Special legislation applies for injuries or illnesses occurring during a package holiday. The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 place obligations on tour operators to ensure that the hotels and facilities they send holidaymakers to are safe.

The regulations enable claimants to make a claim against their tour operator in a UK court, even if the accident occurred abroad. This means that the standard limit of three years from the date of the accident or "date of knowledge" is likely to apply.

Injury or illness abroad

Another country's time limit for a given injury claim may be shorter or longer than the UK's three-year limitation. Claimants should seek legal advice as soon as possible following an injury abroad to reduce the risk of the claim being 'statute-barred'.

Injury and illness on board a flight

The time limit for airline-related injury claims varies depending on the circumstances:

  • Domestic flights - For flights within the UK, the standard 3 year limit applies.
  • Package holiday flights - For flights abroad booked as part of a package holiday, the 3 year limit will usually apply.
  • Other international flights - If a passenger has booked an international flight through an airline directly, international law known as the Montreal Convention usually applies. Injury claims under the convention must be made within a two-year time limit. A small number of countries, however, have not signed the Convention and other time limits may apply when flying to one of these states.

Criminal injury compensation

Criminal injury claims are usually made through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). The CICA apply a time limit of two years following the assault or other criminal incident, however other strict criteria also apply.

Limitation periods and the Mental Health Act 1983

If a claimant was receiving treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983 at the time of their injury, the three-year time limit would not start until the date the claimant was discharged as a patient, or the date the conditions of their disability ended. The 3-year limit starts from the earlier of the two dates.

It may also be possible for a family member or friend to make a claim on behalf of a claimant currently receiving treatment, as the claimant's litigation friend . In some cases, such a claim may be made before the claimant has been discharged.

Injury or illness in the armed forces

Military personnel who have been injured in the course of the duty may make an armed forces injury claim for compensation through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). Personnel have seven years from the date of their injury to file a claim through the AFCS.

An injury claim can also usually be made under civil law, which can result in more compensation being awarded, however the standard three-year limit would apply.

In summary, limitation periods for different types of personal injury claim are as follows:

Injury claim Time limit*
Personal injury claims including slips and trip claims, road traffic accident claims and accident at work claims 3 years from the date of the accident or "date of knowledge"
Injury claims on behalf of children Until the child's 18th birthday
Fatal injury or illness claims 3 years from the date of death or the date the cause of death is known
Package holiday claims 3 years from the date of the accident or "date of knowledge"
Claims for other accidents and illness abroad Unknown, and will vary from country to country
International flight-related claims 2 years
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) claims 2 years from the date of the incident
Claims for people treated under the Mental Health Act 1983 3 years from the date of discharge or the end of the disability
Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) claims 7 years

*The time limits quoted in this table will not apply in all circumstances. It is strongly recommended that you speak to a specialist solicitor about your circumstance to determine how much time you have to make a claim and to discuss your options.

Real world time limits

Making an injury claim close to the three-year limit

Many solicitors will not take on a case that only has a few months (sometimes even a year) left before the 3 year time limit expires.

The limitation period relates to the latest date that court documents can, if necessary, be filed.  As a significant amount of work (e.g. sourcing evidence, arranging medicals etc.) needs to take place before court documents can be filed, most solicitors don't want to take the risk.

Some of these tasks can take weeks, or even months, to compete, including:

  • arranging an independent medical examination and written medical report
  • gathering witness statements
  • gathering other evidence, such as photographs, CCTV footage and expert testimony
  • establishing liability

Many personal injury solicitors feel that the work required will be too hurried and the risk of missing the limitation date too great.  Consequently many solicitors refuse work with less than 6 months to run.

Read more: I have a strong claim - why won't a solicitor take it on?

What if I don't start a claim within the limitation period?

If court proceedings are not formally commenced before the three-year deadline, the claim is statute-barred.  This means the three-year "statute of limitations" for the personal injury claim has expired.

The statute of limitation for personal injury is authorised by the Limitation Act 1980, Section 11. If a case is statute-barred, or time-barred as it is sometimes called, the claim cannot proceed.

Although the majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court, before legal proceedings are started, it is the threat of legal proceedings and more legal fees, that incentivises both sides of the claim to agree a settlement amount.

Once a claim is statute-barred, legal action cannot be taken and the claimant usually has no other formal means of seeking compensation.

Are there any exceptions?

In very rare circumstances, at the court's discretion, the statutory limitation date may be overridden under Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980. The court is unlikely to use these powers unless there is an exceptional reason for delay.

The court will consider all the circumstances of the case, and evidence that the claimant acted as promptly as reasonably possible once the claimant became aware of their injury or illness will be a factor.

How can Quittance help?

Quittance is a panel of highly experienced no win, no fee personal injury and medical negligence solicitors.  Our solicitors have an excellent track record of winning even the most difficult cases and will fight for the best possible compensation settlement for you.

Our solicitors will usually take on cases very close to the limitation period expiring.

To speak to us about making a no win, no fee claim, without obligation, call 0800 612 7456 or click here to arrange a callback.

Injury Claim Time Limit Calculator - 2018 Update

To calculate your exact limitation date, use our online calculator:

How long do I have to file a claim?

Meet the team

Our nationwide panel of solicitors handle all types of personal injury claims and have a wealth of expertise with short-term, serious and life-changing injury claims. Selected because of their track record in winning claims, our solicitors have years of dedicated experience recovering compensation for their clients.

Click here to meet more of the QLS team.

Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
Emma Bell Employers and Public Liability Panel Solicitor
Shahida Chaudery Complex Injury Claims Panel Solicitor


Is this information current in 2018?

Yes. There have been no changes to personal injury limitation dates in 2018.

What can I do to speed up a claim?

There are a number of things you can do to accelerate a claim.

Read more about how you can speed up your claim.

Once I start a claim , how long will it take?

It is difficult to provide an estimate without further information.

Read more about how long a personal injury claim takes.

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

About the author

Gaynor Haliday is an experienced legal researcher and published author. She has had numerous articles published in the press and is a legal industry commentator.

Read more about this Quittance Legal Expert