Limitation Periods In Singapore: When Does Your Right To Sue Expire

Written by Team Farallon

  • Farallon Law Corporation
  • February 5, 2024

Limitation periods in Singapore are governed by specific legal frameworks which set the time limits within which an individual or entity must initiate legal proceedings. These periods define the window for enforcing legal rights through the courts. The rationale behind limitation periods is to ensure legal certainty and fairness, preventing the indefinite hanging over of legal claims.

The primary statute governing limitation periods is the Limitation Act (Cap. 163). This act delineates the time limits for various types of legal actions, ranging from contract disputes to personal injury claims.

General Limitation Periods for Different Types of Claims

In Singapore, the Limitation Act (Cap. 163) sets specific time frames within which different types of legal actions must be initiated. These time frames vary depending on the nature of the claim.

  1. Contract-Based Claims: For actions founded on a contract, the limitation period is typically six years from the date when the cause of action accrues. This period applies unless a different period is explicitly stated in the contract.
  2. Tort-Based Claims: In cases of tort, such as negligence or trespass, the limitation period is also six years. This duration starts from the date when the damage or injury occurred.
  3. Defamation Claims: For defamation actions, the limitation period is shorter, at one year from the date of the alleged defamatory act.
  4. Personal Injury and Negligence Claims: In the context of personal injury arising from negligence, the limitation period is three years from the date of injury or the date when the claimant becomes aware of the injury.
  5. Claims for Death Due to Wrongful Act: If the claim is for death or personal injury resulting from a wrongful act, negligence, or breach of duty, the limitation period is three years from the date of death or the date of knowledge of the death by the dependents.

Initiating legal proceedings beyond these time frames may lead to the dismissal of the claim on the grounds of being time-barred. The clock for these limitation periods starts ticking from the moment the right to make the claim arises, not from the date of the actual loss or damage.

Specific Situations and Their Respective Limitation Periods

In addition to the general limitation periods, the framework provides for specific durations applicable to certain situations. These are tailored to the unique nature of the claims involved.

  1. Claims for Specific Performance or Injunction: For claims seeking an equitable remedy, such as specific performance or an injunction, the Limitation Act prescribes a limitation period of six years. This period commences from the date when the cause of action arises.
  2. Claims to Enforce Judgments: To enforce a judgment, the limitation period is twelve years for a judgment of the court and six years for an arbitral award. This duration starts from the date of the judgment or award.
  3. Claims to Recover Land: In cases involving the recovery of land, the limitation period is twelve years from the point at which the right to recover the land accrues. For rent arrears, the period is six years.

Circumstances Leading to the Commencement of Limitation Periods

In Singapore, the commencement of a limitation period depends on the specific type of claim and the circumstances under which the claim arises.

  1. Accrual of Cause of Action: Generally, the limitation period begins when the cause of action accrues. In contract claims, this is often the date of breach. In tort claims, it is the date when the damage occurs.
  2. Knowledge of Injury or Damage: In cases of personal injury or negligence, the limitation period may begin from the date when the claimant becomes aware of the injury, its severity, and the identity of the defendant. This acknowledges situations where the effects of an injury or damage become apparent only over time.
  3. Fraud or Concealment: When a claim arises out of fraud or the defendant’s concealment of relevant facts, the limitation period may not start until the claimant discovers the fraud or concealment, or could reasonably have discovered it.
  4. Acknowledgement and Part Payment: If a debtor acknowledges a debt or makes a part payment, this can reset the limitation period, starting it anew from the date of acknowledgement or payment.

Be vigilant about these commencement rules to ensure they do not forfeit your rights.

Extension of Limitation Periods Under Special Circumstances

The Limitation Act in Singapore allows for the extension of limitation periods under certain special circumstances. These exceptions are designed to ensure fairness and justice, particularly in cases where the strict application of limitation periods would be inequitable.

  1. Cases Involving Fraud or Mistake: When a claim is based on the defendant’s fraud or a mistake, the limitation period does not start until the plaintiff has discovered the fraud or mistake, or could with reasonable diligence have discovered it. This ensures that individuals who have been deceived or misled have a fair chance to seek redress.
  2. Disability: If the person entitled to bring a claim is under a disability (such as being a minor or having a mental disorder) at the time the cause of action accrues, the limitation period is extended. It does not begin until the disability ceases or the person dies, whichever occurs first.
  3. Acknowledgement and Part Payment: The limitation period can be reset if the person against whom the claim is made acknowledges the claimant’s right, either in writing or by making a part payment. This acknowledgement effectively starts a new limitation period from the date of the acknowledgement or payment.
  4. Court’s Discretion in Certain Cases: In some instances, the courts have the discretion to allow an extension of the limitation period. This is particularly relevant in cases where justice would not be served by the strict application of the limitation period.

Consequences of Failing to Sue Within the Limitation Period

Failing to initiate legal proceedings within the prescribed limitation period can have significant implications for the parties involved.

  1. Bar to Legal Action: The primary consequence is that the claim becomes statute-barred. This means that the courts will not entertain a claim filed after the expiration of the limitation period. The defendant can raise the expiry of the limitation period as a complete defence to the claim.
  2. Loss of Legal Rights: The claimant effectively loses the legal right to enforce their claim through the court system. This loss of right is irrespective of the merits of the case.
  3. Exceptions and Discretionary Powers: In some exceptional circumstances, courts may have discretionary powers to allow a claim to proceed despite being filed out of time. However, these instances are rare and typically require extraordinary circumstances.
  4. Impact on Settlements and Negotiations: The expiry of a limitation period may also influence the dynamics of any settlement negotiations, as the claimant’s bargaining position could be weakened due to the inability to pursue the claim in court.


Parties to potential legal actions must be vigilant about limitation period deadlines to uphold their rights and seek timely legal counsel when necessary. Speak to a civil litigation lawyer in Singapore to learn more about limitation periods.

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