How long after an accident can I claim injury compensation?
Technically, most claimants have up to 3 years after an accident to start a personal injury claim. In reality, it does not always work like this and there are exceptions.
The limitation period is your personal injury claim time limit, the period after an accident in which you are entitled to start a personal injury claim.
According to Section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980), the personal injury claim time limit is 3 years from the date of the injury or date of knowledge, whichever comes later. The deadline before which you must have started a claim is known as the limitation date.
Once the limitation date has passed, a claim becomes 'statute-barred', meaning a claim will no longer be possible.
If you were injured in an accident and you were immediately aware of your injuries, the limitation date will be three years from the date of the accident.
If your injury or illness was diagnosed at a later date, the limitation date will be three years from the date of knowledge.
Technically yes, but in practice, no.
There are various exceptions and practical considerations that can drastically reduce, or increase, the time you will have to start a claim.
Although most claims must be made within the standard 3-year limitation period, there are a number of exceptions. In addition to the special circumstances listed below, the court may, in very rare circumstances, make an exception to the limitation period.
Injury claims involving children
A parent, guardian, or 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 their 18th birthday.
The claimant then has a further 3 years, up to their 21st birthday, to start a claim as an adult.
Fatal injuries or illnesses
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 expired during the lifetime of the deceased person, the family has an additional 3 years from the date of death to start a claim. This applies even when the deceased person has already started an injury claim themselves.
If the cause of death is discovered at a later date, for example following a post-mortem, the three-year period runs from this date of knowledge.
Claims in foreign countries
It may be possible to make a claim following an injury or illness that happened outside the UK. However. limitation periods vary between countries.
Specific 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 hotels and facilities are safe.
The regulations enable claimants to claim against their tour operator in a UK court, even if the accident happened abroad. This means that the standard 3-year limitation period is likely to apply.
Injury or illness on an aircraft
The time limit for airline-related injury claims can vary:
- 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 directly through an airline, international law known as the 'Montreal Convention' usually applies. Injury claims made in accordance with this convention must be made within a two-year time limit. A small number of countries have not signed the convention and other time limits may apply when flying to one of these countries.
Criminal injury compensation
Criminal injury claims are usually made through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). The CICA requires claims to be started within 2-years of the assault or other criminal incident. However other criteria may 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 3-year limitation period 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.
Acting as the claimant's litigation friend. it may also be possible for a family member or friend to make a claim on behalf of a claimant who is currently receiving treatment. In some cases, a claim may be made before the claimant has been discharged.
Injury or illness in the armed forces
Military personnel injured in the line of duty can make an armed forces injury claim through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). Military 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 3-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, then up to the claimant's 21st 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||Varies 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.
The limitation date is the latest date that a claim can be filed with a court.
A significant amount of work (e.g. collating evidence and arranging a medical assessment) needs to be completed before court documents can be filed.
As a result, most solicitors don't want to take the risk of carrying out a lot of legal work only to miss the limitation date. For this reason, many personal injury solicitors will not take on a case more than 30 months, and in some cases 24 months, after the date of injury.
If court proceedings are not started before the limitation date, the claim will be statute-barred. This means the 3-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 claim is statute-barred, or time-barred as it is sometimes known, a claim cannot proceed.
Although the majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court before legal proceedings are started, it is the threat and cost of legal proceedings that incentivises an out-of-court settlement.
In rare circumstances and 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.
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Can I claim for someone else?
Yes. In certain circumstances, it is possible to claim compensation on behalf of another person in the capacity of a 'litigation friend'.
If an injured person is either too young or vulnerable, too injured or otherwise unable to claim on their own behalf, their litigation friend can handle the claim process on behalf of the injured person.
The litigation friend will be responsible for communicating with the solicitors, and for making decisions in respect of the claim.
Can I claim if I was partly responsible for an accident?
You may still be able to claim compensation even if you contributed to your accident or to your injuries.
However, if you were partly to blame (known as contributory negligence), your compensation may be reduced and it may be more difficult to prove liability.
How long do I have to make an injury claim?
In general, you have a time limit of up to 3 years from the date of the ID to make an injury claim.
The last date you can make a claim is known as the claim limitation date - after which your ID claim becomes 'statute barred'.
Can I claim for an injury after 3 years?
Possibly. The general rule for adults is that a claim must be started within three years.
However, the three-year countdown starts on the day you learned of your injury or illness. This will usually be the date of the accident, but could be the date your doctor gave you a diagnosis.
If you were injured as a child, you do have up until your 21st birthday to make a claim.
There other circumstances that can also impact the limitation date. Call us now on 0800 376 1001 to find out if you are still able to claim ID compensation.
In reality, there are a number of factors that can affect whether an injury claim will be taken on by a solicitor.
Will I have to go to court?
Highly unlikely. The vast majority of claims that are settled by the solicitor panel are settled out of court.
Only a very small percentage (approx. 2%) of personal injury claims go to court. Generally, only very complex cases, or those where liability cannot be resolved, end up in court.
Cases that do ultimately go to court are held in front of a judge, not a jury.
Will I have to go to a solicitor's office?
No. You will not need visit a solicitor's office. As with most professional services, it is no longer necessary to meet face to face with your solicitor. Personal injury claims are dealt with via email, post and telephone.
Should you need to have a medical, this will be arranged at a medical centre near you or at your GP's surgery.
Can I get an early compensation payment?
If you suffer financial hardship as a result of an injury, you may be able to claim an interim compensation payment.
An interim payment is a partial settlement of your claim which is paid before your claim is concluded. The amount you receive in interim payments would then be deducted from your final compensation settlement or award.
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.