Limitation Periods (20:App F)

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A claim is governed by the (old) Limitation Act, RSBC 1996, c 266 [Old Limitation Act] if discovery occurred before June 1, 2013. (See Limitation Act, SBC 2012, c 13: s 30(3-4) [Limitation Act]). The definition of discovery is given in the (new) Limitation Act and may be found in the corresponding section of this Appendix. Under the (old) Limitation Act, the limitation period depends on the type of claim and who the other party is. A claim may consist of several causes of action and each cause of action may have a separate/different limitation period.

The (new) Limitation Act, SBC 2012, c 13 [Limitation Act] came into effect on June 1, 2013. A claim is governed by this Act if the claim was discovered after this date, unless the facts underlying the claim arose before the effective date and the limitation period under the old Limitation Act, RSBC 1996, c 266 [Old Limitation Act] has expired. (See Limitation Act, SBC 2012, c 13: s 30(3-4) [Limitation Act]).

The Notice of Claim must be filed before the limitation period expires. If a notice of claim has not been served within 12 months after it was filed, it expires, but the claimant may apply to have it renewed (Rule 16(3)).

1. Old Limitation Act[edit]

Generally, time limitations begin to run from the date of the breach (when all of the elements of the cause of action came into existence). This Act does NOT apply to actions listed under s 3(4), including actions for sexual assault or misconduct. Time limits for the more common causes of action are:

  • Default limitation period: 6 years (s 3(5));
  • Breach of contract: 6 years (insurance: one year); generally notice period required (note: see bullet point immediately below);
  • Damages for the injury of person or property (including economic loss arising from the injury), whether based on contract, tort, or statutory duty: 2 years (Limitation Act, s 3(2)(a));
  • Debt: six years (from the date of the last acknowledgment of the debt, with some exceptions);
  • Enforcement of local judgement for money or return of personal property: 10 years (s 3(3)(f));
  • Ultimate limitation period: 30 years after all elements of a given cause of action are complete (after all damages have occurred). Applies to all claims falling under the (old) Limitation Act except for exceptions under s 8(1);
  • Special ultimate limitation period for hospitals, hospital employees and doctors: 6 years (s 8(1)).

In most cases, the action lapses when the time limit expires. In some circumstances, s 6 of the Limitation Act allows for the running of the basic limitation period, but NOT the ultimate limitation date, to be postponed. Notably, this is the case for actions for personal injury, damage to property, professional negligence, and any action based on fraud or deceit. In these circumstances the running of time does not begin until such time as the identity of the defendant is known to the plaintiff, and a reasonable person, making normal and appropriate inquiries would have discovered a cause of action to exist. (See Shah v Governor and Co of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay Co (cob Hudson’s Bay Co) [2008] BCJ No 479, 2008 BCCA 114). The limitation period is renewed (up to the 30 year ultimate limitation period) if the cause of action is confirmed (s 5) by the defendant’s acknowledgement or part payment of the amount claimed before the original limitation period expires.

NOTE: Where an action has already been commenced, the court has the discretion to allow a third party to be added even if the limitation period for a claim against that third party has expired. See Teal Cedar Products (1977) Ltd. v Dale Intermediaries Ltd. (1996), 19 B.C.L.R. (3d) 282 (C.A.) and Wadsworth v Macleod (2004), B.C.S.C., 1824 for a discussion. The court will consider factors such as: the extent of the delay, the reason for the delay, any explanation put forward to account for the delay, the degree of prejudice caused by the delay, and the extent of the connection, if any, between the claims and the proposed new cause of action.

2. New Limitation Act[edit]

Under the new Limitation Act, the basic limitation period for most causes of action is 2 years from the date of discovery of the claim. Discovery is defined as the day on which the claimant knew or reasonably ought to have known all of the following:

  • a) That injury, loss or damage had occurred;
  • b) That the injury, loss or damage was caused by or contributed to by an act or omission;
  • c) That the act or omission was that of the person against whom the claim is or may be made;
  • d) That, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, a court proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy the injury, loss or damage. (See Limitation Act, s 8).

Other limitations include:

  • Enforcement of civil judgements (s 7): 10 years from date of judgement;
  • Debts owed to government (s 38): 6 years;
  • Maximum limitation period (s 21(1)): 15 years after the original act or omission giving rise to the claim occurs. Applies to all claims falling under the (new) Limitation Act.

Under the (new) Limitation Act, the running of both the basic and ultimate limitation periods may be delayed for minors (s 18), persons while under disability (ss 19, 25), and for fraud or wilful concealment of facts on the part of the defendant (ss 12, 21(3)). Both the basic 2 year limitation period and the 15 year ultimate limitation period are renewed if the defendant gives written and signed acknowledgement of liability (s 24). A counterclaim may be brought even though the limitation period has expired if the counterclaim relates to the claim to which it responds and that claim is within its applicable limitation periods (S 22). The Act generally does not apply to sexual assault claims, child or spousal support claims, or fines under the Offence Act (s 3). The Act also does not apply to limitation periods established under other legislation.

3. Other Legislation[edit]

Certain Acts will overrule the Limitation Act. The Vancouver Charter, S.BC1953, c 55; the Police Act, R.S.BC1996, c 367; and the RCMP Act, RS 1985, c. R-10, all have their own limitation periods and notice provisions, and must therefore be consulted before bringing an action against a party covered by one of these statutes. For limitation dates pertaining to employment, human rights complaints or residential/tenancy disputes, see the corresponding chapters of this manual.

The Local Government Act, RSBC 1996, c 323, sets a limitation date for claims against a municipality in BC (s 285) of 6 months after the cause of action arose. Notice of damages must be delivered to the municipality within 2 months from the date on which the damage was sustained unless the damage resulted in death, the claimant has a reasonable excuse, or the municipality is not unfairly prejudiced by the lack of notice (s 286(1-3)).

Old Limitation Act: New Limitation Act:
Application: Applies if discovery occurred before June 1, 2013 Applies if discovery occurred after June 1, 2013
Basic Limitation Period: 6 years after events occurred* 2 years after discovery**
Damages to Personal Injury or Property: 2 years after events occurred 2 years after discovery
Debts owed to government: 6 years after events occurred 6 years, including ICBC claims for vehicle indebtedness, student loans and medical fees
Counterclaims: Not barred by expiry of limitation period if counterclaim connected to the claim to which it responds and the limitation period for that claim has not expired. Not barred by expiry of limitation period if counterclaim connected to the claim to which it responds and the limitation period for that claim has not expired.
Ultimate Limitation Period: 30 years after all damages occurred 6 years for negligence/malpractice actions against medical practitioners & hospitals 15 years after original events occurred
Enforcement of Judgements: 10 years after judgement 10 years after judgement

*See Limitation Act, RSBC 1996 c 266 for exceptions

**See Limitation Act, SBC 2012 c 13 for exceptions