Specific Time Limits
This part gives a survey of some of the more important current time limits. It is not a substitute for obtaining prompt legal advice. Some time limits change quite often as legislation is amended.
Time limits for common law actions such as recovery of debts, breaches of contract and torts, are set out in state ‘Limitation’ Acts. In Tasmania the relevant legislation is the Limitation Act 1974 (Tas). This Act imposes an absolute time limit of six years on most actions (s5(3)) if the personal injury was incurred before January 1st, 2005 – the general period is 3 years, and the 6 years is only on application. For personal injuries incurred after January 1st, 2005 the time limt is either 12 years from the date on which the personal injury was incurred or 3 years from the date of discoverability (s5A). This means the date on which a person was made aware of the injury – an example would be asbestos related lung cancer. One important instance where the extension time and date of discoverability provisions are important is where a person suffers a ‘disability’ because they are unable to properly manage their affairs due to the fact that they are an infant or have a mental disorder. Another instance is where a debt is ‘acknowledged’ even though the time limit has expired.
Where a common law legal action involves seeking compensation for personal injuries, the action must in all cases be brought within three yearsor within 12 years of the date the injured person realised that he should sue the person who injured him (date of discoverability) but it is wise to sue within 3 years. This time limit applies, for instance, where someone is injured in a car accident and seeks compensation under the compulsory motor accident insurance scheme from the Motor Accidents Insurance Board(‘MAIB’), and also in the case of work-related injuries that are part of a ‘workers compensation’ claim; there are shorter limitation periods for Workers Compensation.
Much longer time periods apply in some cases under the Act. Actions to recover money or other property following a court decision can be brought for up to 12 years after the court decision. In the case of ‘adverse possession’ of land, the legal owner has 12 years in which to recover the land, though this period is 30 years in the case of the Crown. ‘Disability’ extends the 12 year period.
Numerous other time limits are found in other Acts. For example, the Commissioner of Taxation has seven years to sue a taxpayer for unpaid taxes where the taxpayer has made ‘full disclosure’ of their income, but the Commissioner may sue at any time for tax fraudulently withheld. A claim for ‘maintenance’ from a deceased’s estate by a ‘dependent’ not provided for in the will must be made within six months after probate is granted (Testator’s Family Maintenance Act 1912 (Tas)).
There is a general time limit of 12 months to prosecute offences created by legislation other than the Criminal Code, though this may be extended to two, or even three, years in specific instances. There is no specific time limit on prosecuting crimes under the Code, but the longer the prosecution of the crime is delayed the less likely it is to succeed.