Limitation of Actions

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In Law, the limited period of time allowed to a party in which to commence an action after his cause of action has accrued. Owing to the difficulty of preserving evidence for long periods of time, and to prevent the prosecution of claims not well founded, sound policy requires that some limit should be placed upon the time within which actions may be brought.

 Equity, recognizing the justice of such a doctrine, early refused relief to a plaintiff when guilty of laches, but this limitation of actions at law is purely statutory. Statutes of limitation were enacted in the time of Edward I. and Henry VIII., and these were revised by the Statute of Limitation passed in the twenty-first year of James I. (1724), which, with slight modification, has been reenacted in most of the States of the United States.

The following are the more important periods of limitation which, with some variation, have been adopted in England and the United States. Actions affecting the title to real estate, or founded upon a contract under seal, must be brought within twenty years. Similar actions affecting the title to personal property, and actions founded upon such contracts not under seal within six years, and those founded upon personal tort, within two years. In many States the time for bringing equitable action is limited to ten years; and in most States there are short periods of limitation for the benefit of administrators and executors.

An action is deemed to be begun for the purpose of avoiding the Statutory limitation by the delivery of the writ or summons to the sheriff or other proper officer for service. The action is not then barred by the statute even though service of process is not made until after the expiration of the statutory period. A plaintiff who is under disability when his right of action accrues is not barred by the statute until the expiration of the statutory period after the removal of the disability, or, as it is said, the statute does not run against one under a disability. Under the early statutes infancy, converture, insanity, and absence from the country were the enumerated disabilities, but under most modern statues only infancy and insanity are so defined.

The statutory period dates from the time that the cause of action accrues. In the case of actions founded on the right to possession of property the cause of action accrues with the adverse possession of the property.

In the case of both real and personal property uninterrupted adverse possession for the statutory period in effect vests the party in possession with a perfect title, as the real owner is barred from bringing an action.

Such possession must be of definitely bounded or ascertained property and against the consent of the owner. The possession of a tenant or of a mortgagor, being with the consent of the owner and the mortgagee respectively, is not adverse, and is not affected by the statute.

In the case of actions founded upon contract the statute runs from the time when the defendant is bound to perform the contract. Thus in case of negotiable paper the statute begins to run when the paper becomes due. In case of open or running accounts the statute runs from the date of the last items of the account. In the case of all obligations to pay money a payment of interest or a part of the principal forms a new due date from which the statute begins to run anew, and a promise made by the debtor or obligor after the expiration of the statutory period revives the debt or obligation. In some States the new promise to pay is required to be in writing in order to have that effect.

In the case of torts the right of action accrues and the statute runs from the time when the tortious act takes effect or results in the injury complained of.

In most jurisdictions the defense of the Statute of Limitations is not available at the trial unless specially pleaded.

The term limitation is also applied in the law of conveyancing to the granting by deed or will of lesser estates out of a fee, as, for instance, the gift of a life estate to A, remainder for life to B, remainder to C.


Website: The History
Article Name: Limitation of Actions
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes
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