Limitation Periods: General Guidelines and Claim Discovery

justice scales limitations periods and discovery KPA Lawyers

Navigating the complexities of limitation periods can be challenging, especially as they vary based on the nature of the claim. Understanding the concept of 'discovery' is equally critical, as it directly influences when the limitation period begins. Let's explore these topics in more detail.

Understanding Limitation Periods

Limitation periods are set timeframes within which legal proceedings must be initiated. After this period expires, a claim can no longer be pursued in court. The main purpose of a limitation period is to ensure fairness and certainty in legal proceedings.

In general, most jurisdictions follow a basic limitation period for initiating a lawsuit. In Ontario, Canada, for instance, the Limitations Act, 2002 typically establishes a basic limitation period of two years.

However, different types of claims can have different limitation periods. For instance, claims related to real property disputes often have a longer limitation period, up to 10 or 15 years in some jurisdictions. Conversely, certain types of administrative or regulatory claims may have much shorter periods, sometimes as brief as a few months.

The Concept of 'Discovery'

‘Discovery’ is a key concept in determining the start of a limitation period. A claim is generally considered ‘discovered’ on the day when the claimant first knew, or reasonably should have known:

  • That the injury, loss, or damage had occurred

  • That the injury, loss, or damage was caused by or contributed to by an act or omission

  • That the act or omission was that of the person against whom the claim is made, and;

  • That, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss, or damage, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it.

In other words, the clock for the limitation period starts ticking not necessarily when the event causing the loss occurred, but when the claimant becomes aware that they have a legitimate claim.

Exceptions and Extensions

There are exceptions and extensions to these rules. For example, if the person suffering the loss is a minor or mentally incapable, the limitation period doesn’t start until they turn 18 or become capable. Some jurisdictions also have ‘ultimate limitation periods’, which provide an absolute cut-off (typically 10-15 years from the date of the act or omission), after which a claim cannot be brought, regardless of when it was discovered.


In conclusion, understanding limitation periods and the concept of ‘discovery’ is crucial for anyone involved in legal proceedings. Given the complexities and variability of limitation laws, consulting with a legal professional is always advisable to ensure that rights and interests are adequately protected.


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