If you’ve been injured in an accident at work and you are thinking about making a claim for compensation, we’d always advise you to do it sooner, rather than later. That way, the claims process will be started whilst the accident circumstances are still fresh in the minds of everyone involved and of any witnesses to the accident.
If you are reading this article it maybe you have been searching the internet to find out if there are any time limits involved in making an accident at work claim. Perhaps you were injured in an accident at your workplace some time ago, but for one reason or another, you have not claimed compensation.
Are there any time limits? There are and they are fairly strict limits, meaning that if you miss them, only in exceptional circumstances will you be allowed to bring an accident at work claim (or in fact any other type of personal injury claim). The following paragraphs are therefore important if you are thinking of instructing a solicitor to start an accident at work personal injury claim.
What is the time limit for starting a personal injury claim?
The relevant time limits are all set out in an Act of Parliament. This is called The Limitation Act 1980. Section 11 of this Act sets out the relevant time limits in personal injury cases (which includes the time limits for accident at work claims). The time limit for making a claim is known as the limitation period and the limitation period for personal injury claims is three years from:
- The date of the accident, or
- The date of knowledge (if later) of the person injured
In most cases, working out how long you have to start your accident at work injury claim will be straightforward.
If you break an arm in a slip, trip or fall accident, caused by a spillage of oil on the factory floor at your workplace and you decide to bring a personal injury claim for the pain and suffering caused by your broken arm, then your 3-year limitation period for starting a claim will be the day that you had the accident.
Sometimes the injury, or more likely illness that results from an accident at work only becomes apparent some weeks months or even years down the line. It’s only when a doctor diagnoses the problem that the victim becomes aware of, or has ‘knowledge’ of, their condition and what has caused it. In those cases, the limitation period will only start on the date that that you had knowledge of the injury. That sounds a bit confusing, so we’ll explain what we mean by this.
What is meant by ‘date of knowledge’ for the purposes of when the limitation period starts?
Whilst the period for starting an accident at work claim will usually be the date of the accident, there are some types of injury or illness that won’t immediately become apparent immediately after the accident or incident that caused them.
These are usually injuries or illness caused by exposure to toxic substances and some examples of this are:
- Asbestos disease- caused by exposure to asbestos, usually on many occasions over a period of time. Rarely were those workers who were at danger of being exposed to asbestos, ever given any form of breathing protection by their employers to protect them from asbestos dust and fibres.
The results of this exposure do not become apparent until many years later when a doctor diagnoses asbestos disease. It would be unfair if the limitation period started at the time the worker was exposed to asbestos. The three years would pass without the person even having been diagnosed and asbestos disease claims would never be successful!
This is the reason that for claims of this kind ‘the date of knowledge’ (date of diagnosis, in most cases) is used as the date when the limitation period starts.
- Occupational asthma – this is caused by exposure to substances like chemicals or other types of allergens in the workplace that cause asthma or other lung conditions.
- Noise-induced hearing loss – caused by repeated exposure to loud noise in the workplace over a period of time and when no type of ear protection (or inadequate protection) was provided
In the three examples above, the limitation period starts at the date of knowledge, not on the date or dates when exposure to the toxic substances took place. These types of accident at work claims are also known as industrial disease claims.
Are there any other exceptions to the 3 year limit for making a claim?
There are a number of exceptions. Not all the exceptions that are listed in the Limitation Act are relevant to an accident at work claim, but the following exceptions may apply, in certain circumstances:
- Children – if the injured person is under 18 years of age, at the time of the accident, the limitation period will not start until the date of the person’s 18th birthday. The 3 year limitation period will end on their 21st birthday.
- Fatal Accident claims – a fatal accident claim arising from an accident at work, can be made by the deceased person’s close family. The usual requirement that the accident must have been caused by the negligence of the person’s employers, will still apply. As long as the limitation period has not already expired whilst the injured person was still alive, then the limitation period for making a fatal accident claim will start on the date of death.
Sometimes it is only after a post mortem has been carried out on the deceased, that the cause of death reveals that the person died of an injury or illness caused by the negligence (carelessness) of their former employer (as is often the case with asbestos disease). When that happens, limitation only begins on the date that the cause of death is made known i.e. the date of knowledge.
What if I have just decided to make a claim and the 3 year period is coming to an end. Can you still take on my claim?
First of all, let’s clear up what we mean by ‘starting an accident at work claim’. Many personal injury claims get settled without court proceedings having to be issued. Court proceedings are only usually only necessary in accident at work claims, when either the employers’ insurance company;
- denies liability for the accident and cannot be persuaded to change their view, by negotiation or in correspondence, or
- accepts liability but will not increase their offer in settlement of a case to a level that the claimant and their solicitor believe to be reasonable
Even then court proceedings are commenced with a view to putting pressure on the defendant (the employer) to change their mind.
Starting an accident at work claim for the purposes of the limitation period does just involve asking a solicitor to start corresponding with the employers’ insurance company. It means filing the necessary paperwork with the court who will then process it and formally stamp them as being ‘issued’. It is the date that the papers are formally issued that is the important date.
Failure to issue proceedings in time and means that any claim you might have had, will become time barred. If your case becomes time-barred, then except in exceptional circumstances, it fails, and nothing further can done.
Most solicitors will probably not take on a claim where limitation is due to expire in a few months. In fact, most solicitors will not take on a new accident at work claim where there are less than 6 months to go before limitation expires. Many will not take on cases that have entered the last year of the limitation period!
There are genuine reasons for them not agreeing to act for a potential claimant in those circumstances. To be able to get to the point where proceedings can be issued requires a lot of work to be done, such as:
- Gathering of all the evidence, including witness statements
- Obtaining Police Reports
- Obtaining medical evidence
- Making a decision on whether you have a claim based on all the evidence
All of this takes time and involves a significant amount of work being carried out.
Mooneerams solicitors view on taking on claims that are nearing limitation
We are not like other solicitors. We do not have a definite cut off date, after which we will absolutely refuse to take on a claim nearing the expiry of limitation.
If you contact Mooneerams solicitors with a potential accident at work (or for that matter any other type of personal injury claim) where the limitation period is getting close to expiring, we will take your call and discuss the matter with you (free of charge).
You may have some exceptionally good reasons why you were unable to come to us or another firm of solicitors before.
Your ‘date of knowledge’ may actually have been a much later date than you think it is. The limitation date might therefore also not be the date you think it is.
In any event, you will have at least had the opportunity to discuss the matter with an expert accident at work claims solicitor.
Alternatively, we might think that we can do the necessary work, come to a conclusion on liability and get a medical report, in time to enable us to issue proceedings before the limitation period comes to an end.
Why not call us? Our number is 029 2048 3615 and you can also contact us by leaving your details in the form on this page and sending them to us. We’ll call you back once we receive them.
Mooneerams can also help with accident at work claims where limitation is not an issue! That goes without saying. We are specialist accident at work solicitors. In fact, we are specialist personal injury solicitors, full stop. You will be in good hands with Mooneerams.
Call us now on 029 2048 3615. We are able to handle most accident at work claims on a No Win, No Fee basis.