A guide on civil litigation limitation periods in Ontario

Published By: kevinkemp

a guide on civil litigation limitation periods in ontario

Owing to the strict limitation periods set out in the Limitations Act even the strongest claims will be dismissed if they are not commenced in a timely manner; it is therefore imperative that prospective plaintiffs understand the law of limitations in Ontario. 

The Basic Limitation Period

Section 4 of the Limitations Act establishes 2-year limitation period for most claims. According to this provision, a claimant may not initiate a proceeding after the second anniversary of the day on which their claim is ‘discovered.’ For the purposes of the Act, a claim is considered discovered on the date the loss it relates to occurred, or on another date when a reasonable person would have known that the loss had occurred.

The Ultimate Limitations Period

In addition to the general 2-year limitation period, section 15 of the Limitations Actcreates an ultimate limitations period of 15 years. According to this provision, a claim may not be brought after the 15th anniversary of the occurrence that serves as the basis of the claim. For example, if an individual has a slip-and-fall accident, and the losses associated with that injury only become apparent 20 years after the accident, the claim will nonetheless be barred under section 15. 

Exceptions to the General Rules

While the Limitations Act outlines precise timeframes for commencing legal actions, numerous exceptions exist that can modify these periods. Some of these exceptions may extend or entirely remove limitation periods, whereas others might introduce stringent notice requirements. These exceptions may derive from other statutes, mutual agreements, or even provisions within the Limitations Act itself.

A. Exceptions Established by the Limitations Act

Section 16 of the Limitations Act outlines several categories of claims which, due to their very subject matter, are not subject to any limitations period whatsoever. Examples of such claims include the following:

  • Proceedings to obtain support under the Family Law Act;
  • Proceedings based on sexual assault; and
  • Proceedings based on assault where the claimant was a minor at the time of the assault.

Furthermore, pursuant to section 6 and 7 of the Act, a limitation period will not begin to run at any time during which a claimant is a minor or incapable and is unrepresented by a litigation guardian. It is only once such a person is assigned a litigation guardian, becomes the age of majority, or becomes capable, that the limitation period will begin to run.

B. Exceptions Created by Statute

Exceptions to the general limitation periods have been introduced by both federal and provincial legislation. In many cases, such legislation imposes strict notice requirements which must be met by a Plaintiff should they wish to commence an action. While it is beyond the scope of this article to outline all such legislation, some examples are as follows:

Section 44(10) of the Municipal Act requires that, when an individual is injured on a municipal sidewalk or roadway and seeks compensation for their losses, they must serve the municipality’s clerk with written notice of the claim within 10 days of its occurrence. Although there are exceptions, failing to provide notice under Section 44(10) will result in the injured party’s claim being statute-barred.

A similar rule is established by section 6.1(1) of the Occupiers Liability Act. Pursuant to this legislation, where an individual is injured in a slip and fall accident on another’s property due to snow or ice, and wishes to bring an action for their injuries, they must provide the prospective defendant(s) with a written notice of their claim that sets out the date, time, and location of their injury within 60 days of their injury.

Finally, section 5(1) of the Libel and Slander Act requires that where an individual wishes to bring an action concerning libel that was distributed in a newspaper or a broadcast, they must serve the prospective defendant with written notice of the matter complained of within six weeks after it has come to their knowledge.

C. Exceptions Created by Mutual Agreement

Under section 22(3) of the Limitations Act, the basic limitation period may be either suspended or extended by mutual agreement. Likewise, section 22(4) allows parties to suspend or extend the ultimate limitation period, if the relevant claim has been discovered.  

Furthermore, section 22(5) of the Limitations Act allows for the limitations periods concerning “business agreements” to be varied, suspended, extended, or excluded on mutual agreement. As a result of this provision, private contractual agreements may implement limitation periods which are significantly shorter than the standard 2-year period prescribed by the Act.

Tips for Prospective Plaintiffss

The timely observance of limitations periods is a critical aspect of any legal claim. Here are some tips for prospective plaintiffs to ensure that you commence your proceedings on time.

A. Contact a Lawyer

Early consultation with an attorney can significantly enhance your chances of complying with limitations periods and securing the best possible outcome for your case. A lawyer will be able to provide you with insight into the intricate details of limitations periods and can clarify the specific limitation period relevant to your situation.

B. Maintain a Written Record

Keep a detailed and organized record of all events related to your potential claim. This includes dates, conversations, correspondence, and any relevant documents.

C. Calendar Important Dates

Make use of a calendar system to track critical dates, including the date of the incident, the date you discovered the harm (if applicable), and the deadline for filing a lawsuit.


No matter how strong an individual’s claim may be, they may not initiate a claim outside of the periods set out in the Limitations Act. If you believe that you have a potential claim, it is crucial that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. In doing so, you may be sure to avoid any difficulties posed by the Limitations Act.

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