How much time do you have to lodge a claim for damages?

It is always unpleasant to be the victim of loss or damage. Often it is clear straight away what the loss is and who is responsible. But some loss may only come to light later, or its full extent can only be established after several years. And then there are cases of loss where it is not known who is responsible. What can you do in these cases to ensure that you receive compensation for your loss?

A claim for damages cannot be lodged indefinitely. The Dutch Civil Code states that the limitation period for such a claim is in principle 5 years from the day when you actually became aware of the loss and the person liable for the loss. In any event, such a claim expires after 20 years from the date of the event causing the loss.

The moment you are ‘actually aware’ of the loss and the person responsible for it is therefore important in determining the limitation period. You are deemed to be actually aware of the loss at the moment you observe that you have suffered loss. You do not need to know at that moment what the exact cause and amount of the loss is, or how the case will be assessed in legal terms. The mere fact that you know that there is a loss is sufficient.

As soon as you also know who is responsible, the limitation period of 5 years will commence. If your business has suffered loss, it is important to know when your business is deemed to have become aware of that information. For a further explanation, we refer to another article on our website, where we explain that an officer’s knowledge is considered the legal entity’s knowledge according to generally accepted standards.

All in all, it can be said that the moment at which a claim for damages lapses is not always black-and-white. Often only an approximate date can be established. That is why the legislator has chosen for limitation periods of 5 and 20 years respectively. Under normal circumstances the shorter period of 5 years is a reasonable period for a creditor to take action. The long period of 20 years serves to provide legal certainty, so that no-one can be held accountable for events that occurred more than 20 years ago.