Alberta has legislation that requires claimants to commence proceedings within certain time limits. This includes personal injury claims. Failure to file a civil claim by the deadline means that the person is unlikely to be able to sue. 

This article looks at some of the principles that apply to limitation periods in Alberta. If you have been injured, such as in a slip and fall, a motor vehicle accident, or as a result of medical malpractice, it is critical to bring your claim within the statutory time limit. 

Given the unique circumstances of each person’s situation and the range of potentially applicable limitation periods and exceptions, it is a good idea to seek early advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer. Waiting too long may rule out the opportunity to sue for compensation. 

There is a two-year limitation period in the majority of cases

In most personal injury cases in Alberta, the Limitations Act states that the action needs to be commenced within the following:

  • two years after the person knew, or ought to have known, of the claim; or
  • ten years after the claim arose, whichever period expires first.

For most cases, the two-year period will expire first, so it is important to file the claim within this short period. When does the two-year period start to run? It is not necessarily as simple as the date that the injury occurred.

The period starts when the person knew, or ought to have known, of three matters

For the two-year period, the clock begins to run when the claimant first knew, or in the circumstances ought to have known, of three matters:

  • that the injury had occurred;
  • that the injury was attributable to the defendant’s conduct; and 
  • that the injury warrants bringing a proceeding.

Determining actual or constructive knowledge of these matters is not always easy, and it has led to disputes where defendants have argued that the claimant ought to have known of these matters more than two years before they started the claim.

It is preferable to start the action as soon as possible and within two years of the event that caused the injury. This will only sometimes be possible though, for example, where an injury does not immediately present after the relevant event. 

However, courts have recognized the need to focus on when the claimant discovers the injury (as opposed to the cause of action for the injury), which may extend the time for starting the claim in some cases. As the Court of Appeal of Alberta said in Gayton v Lacasse:

“A claimant is not required to bring a claim … until two years after discovery of the three criteria … namely, when the plaintiff first knew, or in the circumstances ought to have known, of the injury, that the injury could be attributed to the respondent, and that the injury warranted bringing the action. Moreover, these three criteria must be examined taking into account the circumstances, including the claimant’s personal circumstances.”

There are some exceptions to the limitation period

The Limitations Act also contains several exceptions that could be applicable, depending on the circumstances. These include:

  • There is no limitation period in respect of certain claims, including those relating to a sexual assault or battery; or an assault or battery in some circumstances, such as where the person was a minor, in an intimate relationship with the defendant, dependent on the defendant or under disability.
  • The limitation period is suspended while the claimant is a person under disability, which is defined as a represented adult under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act, a person with a certificate of incapacity under the Public Trustee Act, or an adult incapable of making reasonable judgments in respect of matters relating to a claim. 
  • The limitation period is also suspended while the claimant is a minor. However, the period starts to run if the defendant delivers a notice to the minor’s guardian and the Public Trustee.

Some types of actions also have very short notification periods

In addition to the limitation period described above, some particular types of action have specific notification requirements, including the following. 

Claimants need to quickly notify municipalities of claims 

Under the Municipal Government Act, municipalities need to keep every road and public place subject to their control and management in a reasonable state of repair. Failure to do so may result in the municipality being liable for negligence.

A person bringing such a claim must notify the municipality within 30 days of the event’s occurrence. Failure to do so will bar the action unless one of three exceptions applies:

  • there is a reasonable excuse for the delay and the municipality is not prejudiced by the lack of notice;
  • the event resulted in death; or 
  • the municipality waives the requirement in writing.

Suppose the claim against the municipality relates to an injury caused by snow, ice or slush on roads or sidewalks. In that case, the claimant must notify within 21 days after the occurrence of the event, unless one of the exceptions applies.

Notifications for hit-and-run and uninsured driver accidents

You may be able to claim damages through the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Program if you have been injured in an accident and the driver does not have insurance or flees the scene. For hit-and-run accidents, the injured person needs to notify MVAC within 90 days of the accident. Notice should be given to MVAC as soon as possible for accidents with an uninsured drivers.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Advice on Personal Injury Claims 

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to bring your personal injury claim. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary as soon as possible to discuss your injury and claim prospects. We will advise you on the timelines that apply to your particular circumstances and let you know whether you have a strong case. Call us today at 403-571-0555 or contact us online to book an appointment for a free consultation.