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The Nuances of Limitation Periods 

By January 9, 2024No Comments

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to create one, and it is not intended to constitute legal advice or to substitute for obtaining legal advice from a solicitor. The article below describes the most common limitation periods in Saskatchewan; however, it should not be assumed that the general rule applies to all or an individual’s specific claim. There are exceptions beyond the typical two-year limitations period that may not be discussed in the within article and it is possible the law on these issues has been amended from the date the below has been posted. Anyone with a potential claim should discuss their specific circumstances with a lawyer to ensure that they do not miss a limitations period. 

Bryden Wudrich, B.Comm, J.D.

A limitation period sets a deadline for when a legal proceeding may be pursued. Most people are aware that the standard limitation period is two-years, but are unaware of the exemptions to that time limit and circumstances that actually initiate this time limit. 

The Limitations Act, is the governing legislation regarding limitation periods in Saskatchewan. Section 5 sets out the standard two-year limitations period:

Basic limitation period

[5] Unless otherwise provided in this Act, no proceedings shall be commenced with respect to a claim after two years from the day on which the claim is discovered.

As allowed for in the above, in certain legislation, limitations periods can differ from the standard two-years. One example is The Cities Act, where no limitation period exists for a city to recover property taxes; but, conversely, that Act limits the deadline to one-year for certain actions being brought against a city. 

There are also claims without a limitation period, such as misconduct of a sexual nature, where the parties were living together in a relationship, or when the plaintiff was dependent on the individual that caused the injury. 

A limitation period is presumed to begin when the act causing the injury, loss, or damage occurred or when that act was discovered. Discovery is defined within the Act as follows:

Discovery of claim

6(1) Unless otherwise provided in this Act and subject to subsection (2), a claim is discovered on the day on which the claimant first knew or in the circumstances ought to have known: 

(a) that the injury, loss or damage had occurred;

(b) that the injury, loss or damage appeared to have been caused by or contributed to by an act or omission that is the subject of the claim;

(c) that the act or omission that is the subject of the claim appeared to be that of the person against whom the claim is made; and

(d) that, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it.

(2) A claimant is presumed to have known of the matters mentioned in clauses (1)(a) to (d) on the day on which the act or omission on which the claim is based took place, unless the contrary is proved.

The issue of discovery is often litigated, and a few key principles can be observed from the resulting judicial decisions:

  • When a defendant raises the issue of limitations, it is the plaintiff’s obligation to prove the limitation period has not expired;
  • A plaintiff does not need perfect knowledge, nor even knowledge of the full extent or the precise type of loss for discoverability to be met; and
  • Sections 6(1)(a) to (d) are cumulative, meaning if one of the four factors has not been satisfied, the limitation period has not yet begun.

Sub-section 6(1)(d) has the purpose of preventing parties from rushing into litigation, allowing them an opportunity to resolve their matter consensually.  Nevertheless, it poses the challenge of determining when litigation is “appropriate.” The Courts have found that this section is triggered in two scenarios: when a plaintiff relies on a defendant with superior knowledge and expertise; and where the parties enter into a form of alternative dispute resolution. These situations can extend when a limitation period begins, beyond when the act or omission occurred. However, once the reliance or alternative resolution ceases, it is then appropriate for a plaintiff to pursue their claim, thus beginning the running of a limitation period. This is due to the general principle that a plaintiff must diligently pursue his or her claim. 

Lastly, once the limitation period begins, some activities can re-start the running of that limitation period. The Limitations Act, section 11 says as follows:

Acknowledgments and part payments

11(1) If a person acknowledges the existence of a claim for payment of a debt, for the recovery of property, for the enforcement of a charge on property or for relief from enforcement of a charge on property, the act or omission on which the claim is based is deemed to have taken place on the day on which the acknowledgment was made.

Acknowledgements must be in writing, but that written communication can include electronic communications like e-mail and text messages. So too, a partial repayment of the debt may also be a form of acknowledgment for the purposes of section 11. 

Limitation periods, while in some cases unambiguous, can also be complicated. Such complication can make or break a claim. It is crucial for litigating parties to review the relevant legislation, to determine if the standard two-year term applies or if some other time-limit may be applicable. Discoverability and whether it begins on the date of the alleged act or the cumulation of section 6(1)(d) should be considered by a plaintiff. Finally, determining whether the actions of the defendant may have restarted the running of a limitations period can potentially save a claim that would have otherwise expired. 

The Cities Act, SS 2002, c C-11.1

The Limitations Act, SS 2004, c L-16.1

GHC Swift Current Realty Inc. v BACZ Engineering (2004) Ltd., 2022 SKCA 38

Saskatchewan (Highways and Infrastructure) v Venture Construction Inc., 2020 SKCA 39