Prescription periods in South African law

prescription periods
17 Mar 2021

If you’re planning to pursue a personal injury claim, you must be aware of prescription periods and how they apply to your claim. In this article, we explain what prescription periods are, when they apply and what exceptions exist.

What is a prescription period?

A prescription period applies to legal claims and debts. The prescription period is a time limit after which the opportunity to claim or the obligation to pay money expires.

This period begins immediately after an incident occurs or a debt is incurred.

In terms of a personal injury claim, the prescription period is the amount of time you have to submit a claim after the incident in question. If you don’t claim within this prescription period, you lose the opportunity forever.

When does a claim prescribe?

The length of a prescription period depends on the type of claim or debt. In some circumstances, prescription periods for personal injury claims can be extended.

Below, we look at different types of legal claims and the prescription periods associated with them.

Prescription periods for personal injury claims

Prescription periods for personal injury claims vary. It’s always best to consult an attorney to make sure you get the correct information about your claim’s prescription period.

Most medical malpractice claims, for example, have a three-year prescription period from the date of the alleged negligence.

Prescription period for claims against the state

Claims against the state are all personal injury claims against government departments, organs of state or state-owned enterprises. The prescription period for these claims is three years from the date of the incident.

Examples of claims against the state include:

  • medical malpractice claims against state hospitals
  • electrocution-related claims against Eskom
  • personal injury claims against PRASA or Metrorail
  • wrongful arrest or police brutality claims against the SAPS.

Prescription period for claims against the Road Accident Fund

For claims against the Road Accident Fund, a claim must be lodged by the claimant within three years of the date of the accident.

For claimants under the age of 18, the prescription period only starts when a claimant turns 18, after which time he or she has three years to lodge a claim.

For hit-and-run accidents, the prescription period is shorter. A claimant must lodge a claim within two years of the date of the accident.

Grounds for delaying a prescription period

Under certain circumstances, the prescription period may be delayed or extended. These include:

  • if the claimant is mentally handicapped
  • if the claimant is a minor (in which case the prescription period starts on his or her 18th birthday and lasts one year)
  • if the harm caused manifests at a later date – for example, if an incident results in someone’s death a few months after the incident occurred.

Exceptions to the normal prescription periods

Sometimes a claimant can successfully apply to the court for condonation. This means you’re granted permission to continue with the case even though the prescription period has lapsed.

For example, in claims against the state, written notification has to be sent to the organ of state that you intend to lodge a claim. Legal proceedings can only be instituted 30 days after this notification has been sent.

If this notification is not sent and there’s a valid reason why, the court may grant condonation. This is rare and the reason has to be sufficient.

Unfortunately, ignorance of prescription periods isn’t considered a valid reason for condonation. Make sure you consult an experienced personal injury attorney if you think you have a claim.

Personal injury claims with DSC Attorneys

DSC Attorneys has extensive experience in personal injury claims, claims against the State and claims against the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

Different claim types are subject to their own, specific prescription periods under South African law. A suitably qualified attorney is familiar with these and knows how to navigate the relevant legal claims processes to meet all requirements.

The firm’s experienced team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. It operates on a no win, no fee basis.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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