Statute of Limitation | When Time Expires

Statute of Limitation

What is Statute of Limitation?

A Statute of Limitations is a statute in a Common Law legal system setting forth the maximum period of time, after certain events, that legal proceedings based on those events may begin. In civil law systems, these provisions are usually part of the civil code or criminal code and are often known collectively as periods of prescription or prescriptive periods.


A Common Law legal system might have a statute limiting prosecution for crimes called misdemeanors to two years. In such a state, if a person is discovered to have committed a misdemeanor three years ago, he or she cannot now be prosecuted for it. Or a contract can only be sued upon for breach or performance from six years after the contract was agreed upon or partially performed.

In contrast, Canada has a criminal limitations periods only for summary (less serious) offences. The period is ten years from the date of the offence. Thus, A can only be charged with failing to inform of a hole in ice (an actual offence) within ten years of the time of commission. In the case of indictable (more serious) offences, if A sexually assaulted V, A could be charged any time in the future—even if the crime happened twenty years ago.

A crime (in the case of a criminal prosecution) or a cause of action (in a civil lawsuit) is said to have accrued when the event beginning its time limitation occurs. Sometimes this is the event itself that is the subject of the suit or prosecution (such as a crime or personal injury), but it may also be an event such as the discovery of a condition one wishes to redress, such as discovering a defect in a manufactured good, or in the case of lost memory syndrome where someone discovers memories of childhood sexual abuse during therapy long afterwards.

A special case of the statute of limitations is a statute of repose. This applies to buildings and properties, and limits the time during which an action may lie based upon defects or hazards connected to the construction of the building or premises. An example of this would be that if a person is electrocuted by a wiring defect incorporated into a structure in, say, 1990, a state law may allow him or his heirs to sue only before 1997 in the case of an open (patent) defect, or before 2000 in the case of a hidden defect.