If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a road traffic accident in a foreign country, it is vital you bear in mind the time period applicable to that country for you to bring your claim.
The term limitation period refers to the time period you have within which to issue Court proceedings against the defendant. If you fail to issue court proceedings by the limitation date, your claim would be statute-barred and you would not be able to issue court proceedings after that date.
You may be familiar with the limitation period which applies in England, which is three years from the date of the accident (or in the event of you being under the age of 18 when the accident occurs, the limitation date is three years from your eighteenth birthday).
Most EU countries have different limitation periods to England and it is important you are aware of the limitation period of the country you are travelling to.
At Stephensons we have a dedicated team of lawyers who deal with road traffic accidents abroad where a personal injury has been suffered, and the main countries we deal with and the relevant limitation periods are:
France – ten years from the date of the accident;
Belgium – five years from the date of the accident;
Germany - the end of the third year from the date of the accident (for example if the accident occurred on 14th May 2014, the limitation date would be 31st December 2017).
Spain – one year from the date of the accident.
(Different limitation periods may apply in circumstances where no personal injury has been suffered and a claim is to be made for property damage only)
It is important to remember that the commencement of the claims process against the defendant is the letter of claim to be sent to the defendant and their UK representative for their insurance company. The defendant and insurer then have 42 days to respond to the letter of claim, and a further six months (known as the pre-action protocol period) within which to make investigations and to confirm their stance on liability.
Therefore, particularly if you are involved in an accident in Spain, it is vital that the letter of claim is sent out to the relevant parties shortly after the accident has taken place given the length of time the insurer has to investigate matters. If the letter of claim is only sent out six months post-accident, then the need to issue court proceedings would arise before the pre-action protocol period has expired. The limitation period in Spain can be extended through a process known as Bureaufax however this involves the instruction of a Spanish lawyer to undertake this process in Spain.
In conclusion, the earlier you instruct your solicitor if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident abroad the better given the lengthy investigation period afforded to the insurer and the short limitation period in certain EU countries, particularly Spain.
If you would like to speak to a member of our personal injury team regarding an accident abroad or in the UK call us on 01616 966 229.