Limitation Periods: What’s the Deadline for Suing in Singapore?
Still sitting on whether or not to commence a lawsuit? Apart from considering the substantive aspect of your intended legal action, be aware that the law imposes a deadline or “limitation period” on suing in Singapore.
If you overlook this deadline, your right to commence legal action may be time-barred and as a result, you will no longer have the right to claim for compensation.
The limitation periods, or deadlines, for suing in Singapore are prescribed by the Limitation Act. The purpose of having such deadlines is mainly to discourage delayed litigation years after damage has been done.
This is in view of the risk of relevant evidence becoming lost or forgotten the longer things drag out. Parties will also be able to move on and have closure sooner, instead of still fighting it out in court for acts that happened years ago.
There is no blanket or uniform limitation period imposed on all claims. Rather, the limitation period would depend on the court hearing the dispute, as well as the type of lawsuit, which are explained in greater detail below. In each section, we will also share when the limitation period will start to run.
Which Court are You Bringing the Lawsuit in?
The court you are intending to commence your lawsuit in may have its own special time limits.
The Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)
The SCT hears a range of disputes. These include disputes concerning sale of goods, provision of services and damage to property.
Your claim may fall within the jurisdiction of the SCT where your dispute involves a claim of:
- Up to $20,000; or
- Up to $30,000 and both parties have consented to the claim amount.
For claims brought to the SCT, there is a limitation period of 2 years from the date on which your right to sue arose.
If you are unsure if you should sue in the SCT, find out more in our other article.
The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT)
The ECT hears salary-related disputes and wrongful dismissal claims.
Where you are currently employed by the employer you are intending to sue, a time limit of 1 year from the date that the dispute arose applies.
Where you are no longer employed by the employer you are intending to sue, a time limit of 6 months from your last day of work applies.
Read our other article for more information on suing in the ECT.
|Start date of the claim
|Small Claims Tribunals
|When your right to sue arose – see the “Types of lawsuit” section below
|Employment Claims Tribunals
|Currently employed – 1 year
|When the dispute arose
|No longer employed – 6 months
|The last day of employment
Types of Lawsuit
Breach of contract
Where a party has breached a contract by failing to perform a contractual obligation, you may wish to sue him/her to recover compensation. This could, for instance, be a failure to supply goods under a contract for the supply of goods.
For such an action founded on contract, a time limit of 6 years from the date on which the breach occurred is applicable.
If you are seeking to bring an action of any of the following:
to recover compensation from another party who has caused you, or the deceased, damage, then your action would be founded on tort.
In general, the time limit for bringing an action founded on tort is 6 years from the date that you suffered the loss or damage.
Specifically, for defamation claims relating to defamatory material, the 6-year period starts running from the date of publication of the said material.
Negligence, nuisance or breach of duty
The limitation period for claims for damages relating to negligence, nuisance or breach of duty depends on whether the claim consists of, or includes a claim for damages for personal injuries.
For claims relating to personal injuries (i.e. injury to a person), the limitation period is either:
- 3 years from the date on which the injury was sustained; or
- If you did not have certain required knowledge for starting a lawsuit when the injury was sustained, 3 years from the earliest date on which you had such knowledge,
whichever is the later date.
The required knowledge refers to knowledge of all of the following:
- That the injury or damage was attributable to the act or omission that might have caused it;
- Of the identity of the defendant (i.e. the party you are suing);
- (If the act or omission that caused you damage was caused by someone, but you are suing someone else for compensation instead) Of the identity of that other person other than the defendant, and of the additional facts that support your lawsuit against the defendant; and
- Of material facts about the injury or damage that would justify starting a lawsuit.
As an example, a patient loses his sight due to a doctor’s negligently performed surgery. However, he remains unaware of such negligence until more than 3 years have passed since the surgery date. Despite this, he will still be able to sue the doctor, as long as he does so within 3 years after he realises that the doctor might have been negligent.
For claims not relating to personal injuries, the limitation period is either:
- 6 years from the date on which the damage occurred; or
- If you did not have required knowledge for starting a lawsuit when the damage occurred, 3 years from the earliest date on which you had such knowledge AND the right to bring such an action,
whichever is the later date.
Damage other than personal injuries include, for instance, damage to vehicles or houses.
Do note that for all negligence, nuisance or breach of duty actions, there is an overriding time limit of 15 years from the date of the alleged act causing the injury or damage.
Thus, if you had the required knowledge for starting a lawsuit only 13 years after suffering the injury or damage, you will be left with only 2 years to bring an action (instead of 3 years).
Death by wrongful act
Where there was death caused by any wrongful act, neglect or default, and the deceased would have been entitled to recover damages had he/she not died, then the dependants of the deceased may bring the action for damages instead.
Under the Civil Law Act, such a claim is subject to a limitation period of 3 years after the date of the deceased’s death.
Specific performance and injunctions are special remedies which the court may award where it is just and equitable to do so. While they are not readily granted by the court, you may consider applying to court for them where for instance, damages cannot adequately compensate you for the harm you have suffered.
For both specific performance and injunctions, a time limit of 6 years applies from the:
- Date of the breach of contract (for claims over contracts); or
- Date of damage suffered (for claims over torts).
Actions for enforcing judgments
Where you had previously obtained a court judgment in your favour, but the other party has refused or failed to comply with the judgment, you may wish to take up enforcement proceedings.
For this, there is a time limit of 12 years, starting from the date when the judgment became enforceable.
For example, this could be the date where the judgment was issued.
The following table summarises the limitation period for the respective types of lawsuits, and when it starts to run:
|Type of lawsuit
|Start date of limitation period
|Breach of contract
|Date of breach
|Date of damage/ publication
|Negligence, nuisance or breach of duty causing personal injuries
|Whichever is later:
|Date of injury
|Date of required knowledge for starting a lawsuit
|Negligence, nuisance or breach of duty (other damage)
|Whichever is later:
|Date of damage
|Date of required knowledge for starting a lawsuit
|Death by wrongful act (claimed by dependant)
|Date of death
|Specific performance / injunctions
|Date of breach / damage, depending on whether claim is based on contract or tort
|Date when the judgment became enforceable
Extension of Limitation Period If the Claimant Suffers from a Disability
The limitation period for the above-mentioned actions may be extended where the claimant is under a disability at the time his/her right of action accrues.
The meaning of “disability”
The following may be considered disabilities for the purposes of extending the limitation period:
- Where the claimant is a minor below 21 years old; or
- Where the claimant lacks the mental capacity to sue
What does it mean that the deadlines may be extended?
Specifically, the Limitation Act operates to postpone the deadline in the case of disability. This means that the limitation period will not start running until the claimant ceases to be under the disability or dies (in the latter situation, the claimant’s dependant(s) may step in to bring the action instead).
For example, claims for personal injuries typically have to be brought within 3 years of the date of the injury being suffered.
However, if you had suffered a personal injury at 17 years old, the time limit for bringing your claim will not start to run until you turn 21 years old. After you have turned 21, you will have another 3 years to bring your claim.
Consequences of Missing the Deadline: A Case Study
What happens if you miss the deadline for filing your claim? In short, your claim may be time-barred and even a strong case would not suffice to win your lawsuit.
The gravity of suing too late was highlighted in a 2020 Court of Appeal decision in a claim relating to negligence and breach of duty.
Suing for $886,000
In that case, the claimant, Mr Jumaat, had relied on the defendants’ advice, which were later established to be negligent misrepresentations, and made 3 tranches of investment on separate dates – 27 April 2011, 17 June 2011 and 3 February 2012. He was due to receive the investment payout within a year from the date of each investment respectively.
However, when the first repayment became due on 27 April 2012, no repayment was made. Mr Jumaat then entered into further settlement agreements, whereby parties agreed on the settlement sum that was to be paid by 21 September 2012. This sum was, however, not repaid as well, which eventually led to Mr Jumaat suing on 21 July 2018 for $886,000 in damages.
Lawsuit started 3 months too late
The key issue that the Court of Appeal had to decide on was the date on which Mr Jumaat first suffered loss. This is because that date would determine the latest date that he would have been able to sue for the $886,000.
The Court of Appeal held that the cause of action accrued on 27 April 2012, since it was on that date when Mr Jumaat suffered actual loss since no repayment was made.
Consequently, the latest date that Mr Jumaat could have sued was 6 years from the start date, i.e. 27 April 2018. Unfortunately, as the defendants pointed out, Mr Jumaat’s claim was filed only on 21 July 2018, which was about 3 months too late. As a result, his claim was time-barred and the sum of $886,000 in damages – which the court had initially held he had been entitled to – thus slipped away.
This case reinforces the importance of adhering to the deadline for commencing an action. By failing to file a claim within the limitation period, even the most meritorious case would be turned down.
The defendant must expressly use your missed deadline as a defence to your claim
To be clear, even if you have filed your claim outside of the limitation period, it will fail only if the defendant raises this as a defence against your claim. If the defendant doesn’t do so, your claim may still go through.
However, it may be wiser to file your claim within the limitation period instead of taking such a risk.
As seen from the discussion above, there is no one fixed time limit for all types of claims. Instead, the time limit will depend on the claim you intend to bring, and for more controversial cases, the court’s determination of the start date. It would be wise to avoid filing claims till the very last-minute to reduce the likelihood of missing the deadline.
Furthermore, even after you have successfully filed an originating claim (previously known as a “Writ of Summons”) to start a lawsuit, tons of other deadlines have to be adhered to.
For instance, the originating claim has to be served within 3 months from its date of issue, and pleadings such as the Statement of Claim must be served on the defendant within 14 days after the service of the originating claim.
Do all of these seem too much to handle?
Consider engaging a lawyer to help you in navigating your lawsuit. With their experience and expertise, a lawyer will not only be able to accurately determine the applicable time limit for your claim, but also ensure that other complex filing requirements and deadlines are met.
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