08.04.2020

Anti-Crisis Shield and the Limitation Period for Civil Claims

Author: Magdalena Dziubczyk / Senior Associate/Counsel

Before lifting the declaration of the state of pandemic emergency due to COVID-19, civil claims will be subject to limitations under the current, unmodified rules. This means that, for example, many claims relating to the performance of the contracts will reach their time limit by the end of 2 years from their due date irrespective of whether the period covered the time of the pandemic or whether there were any extraordinary circumstances at the time of its expiry.

The lack of influence of the currently adopted legal regulations related to the state of the epidemic on the statute of limitations for claims results from the fact that Article 15zzr of the Polish Civil Code (as well as other editorial units) of the Act of 31 March 2020 on Amending the Act on Special Solutions Related to the Prevention, Counteracting and Combating COVID-19, Other Infectious Diseases and Crisis Situations Caused by Them and Other Acts (in Polish) does not apply to activities related to civil law.

Although the original draft of the above-mentioned Act assumed the suspension of civil law deadlines, this solution was abandoned at one of the stages of legislative works.

This means that anyone who intends to exercise their rights should not wait and, despite the state of the epidemic, strive to effectively interrupt the limitation period. It can be achieved, for example, by bringing a lawsuit or filing a request to call for issuance of summons to a conciliation hearing. However, in the light of current rules, the latter solution may prove to be far from satisfying since, following the amendment of the Act of 28 July 2005 on Court Costs in Civil Cases, the conciliation procedure has become costly and uneconomic for applicants.

The question arises as to whether the force majeureprovisions may be helpful for those who were ‘late’. However, the answer is not clear, and the outcome of a particular case will depend on the court’s decision. According to Article 121(4) of the Civil Code, it is possible to interrupt the limitation period due to force majeure, if on the span of its duration the entitled person could not pursue his or her claims before the court or other body appointed to hear cases of a given type.

The Court will, therefore, individually examine whether or not the complainant had objective difficulties in interrupting the limitation period effectively. It is not sufficient to merely refer to the state of the epidemic. It will be necessary to demonstrate in detail the specific circumstances affecting adversely the complainant’s ability to pursue his or her claims. Such individual reasons, potentially justifying the need to suspend the limitation period during the period of force majeure, could include, for example, forced quarantine, limited possibilities of movement to obtain documentary evidence, or difficulties in bringing an action before a court or sending it from a post office.

Given the provision’s special nature as well as the discretionary nature of the final decision on the interruption, and despite the pandemic, no required legal steps should be disregarded in order to avoid future negative consequences of a possible nonfeasance, including the dismissal of the claim due to the expiry of the limitation period.