Limitations Period in Civil Litigation

I remember first hearing the phrase “statute of limitations” before law school. I had no clue what that meant. There is a statue somewhere called “Limitations”? Later, at law school, I learned what the word “statute” means (the law that is passed by the government and written down in big thick official volumes) and that the statute in Ontario is the Limitations Act, which governs how long people have to sue someone. Click on link here:

But, I soon learned that it gets complicated. Although I’ve heard people say that you have two years from when the injurious event occurred (basic limitation period is in s.4 of the Act), in reality, there are exceptions to this rule. s. 16 provides for certain types of proceedings that have no limitations periods. Furthermore, s.7 says that the limitations period does not run if the claimant “is incapable of commencing a proceeding in respect of the claim because of his or her physical, mental or psychological condition; and (b) is not represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim.”

And of course, the Limitations Act alone does not give you a comprehensive list of all the limitation periods. For example, if your case involves defamation, you have to consult the Libel and Slander Act to see what the limitation period is. Currently, you have to file a Notice of Action within 6 weeks of the alleged libel. That’s a whole lot shorter than 2 years!

Also, law students quickly learn that you never just read a statute and just trust your own judgement as to what the statute means. You always must go to the case law to figure out how courts interpret the legislation of interest. As an example, because the limitation period does not start to run until a claim is “discovered”, litigants can argue over what “discover” means in their dispute. (See for example: St. Jean v. Cheung, 2008 ONCA 815 (CanLII)

Finally, there is also the complication that can happen to people when they sue in the wrong “court”, and then run out of time to sue at the right “court”! See lawyer Peter Spiro’s commentary on CanLII.

In conclusion, one has to be careful not to assume that the law is simple, that is, it is not always 2 years for limitations period.

LawPro has a helpful chart here:

*Note that the videos on Litigation Help are based on Ontario civil litigation only.*

Many thanks to Heather Douglas for working with me on Legalese Translator! Her website is here: