Italy - Time Bars

Date: 19/01/2017
Author: Paolo Manica
Source: Studio Legale Mordiglia
Italy - Time Bars

Last updated 31/01/2019

Under Italian law, limitation periods depend on the type of claim.  For the purpose of the time bars examined in this article, the main statutes are the Civil Code and the Code of Navigation.  Time bars are distinguished between prescrizione and decadenza: both cannot be extended or shortened by agreement between the parties, but prescrizione can be protected by a notice of claim which will make a fresh time bar period start to run, whilst decadenza can be avoided only by court action or any other act required by the law or by the contract.

Below is the time bar position under Italian law:

Nature of Claim Time Bar

Contracts of carriage

In General
One year or 18 months, the longer time bar being applicable where the carriage starts or ends outside Europe (Art. 2951 Civil Code). The time bar starts to run from the day the goods arrived or should have arrived at destination and is prescrizione, therefore it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.

By Sea
Six months or one year, the longer time bar being applicable where the place of loading or that of destination is outside Europe or the Mediterranean (Art. 438 Code of Navigation). The time bar starts to run from the day the goods arrived or should have arrived at destination and is prescrizione, therefore it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.

If the contract if subject to the Hague Visby Rules, the one year time bar under Art.3.6 will apply.

All claims arising out of a contract of carriage or sub-carriage, including cargo claims, must be submitted to an alternative dispute resolution procedure called “negoziazione assistita” before they can be pursued in court proceedings.  In other words, this procedure is a precondition for potential subsequent court proceedings.  In lack of this procedure, the Judge will stay the court proceedings and order the parties to carry out the procedure.  The invitation to negoziazione assistita interrupts any time bar, including the Hague Visby Rules one year time limit.  In a recent decision in a cargo claim case (GFS International Ltd. v. Ignazio Messina & C Spa and others, Tribunal of Genova, 04.06.2018), the Tribunal of Genova held that if the invitation to negoziazione assistita is rejected or not accepted or the procedure failed, court proceedings must be commenced within 30 days, and not within any remaining time of the original time bar.  However, this is an unprecedented decision of a lower court, therefore we must wait for this rule to be affirmed by higher courts before considering it as settled case law.

Combined Transport
The position is unsettled due to conflicting case law.  In some decisions, our Court of Cassation ruled that a combined transport, even where the sea stage of the carriage is predominant, is not subject to the Hague Visby Rules, but is governed by the Civil Code.  Therefore, the time bars are one year or 18 months under Art. 2951 Civil Code.

In other decisions, our Court of Cassation held that if the stage of the carriage where the loss or damage occurred is known, then the law of that stage should apply. Therefore, if it is known that the loss or damage occurred during the sea carriage, the law and relevant time bar of the law governing the carriage by sea should apply.

Contract claims The general time bar is 10 years (Art. 2946 Civil Code) from the day the claimant can enforce his right, that is normally the day he became aware of the breach of the contract.  It is prescrizione, so it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.
Shorter time bars apply to some particular contracts (insurance, employment, lease, company, etc.).
Tortious Claims Within 5 years of the day of the fraudulent or negligent act (Art. 2947 Civil Code). It is prescrizione, so it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.
Claims for damages by circulation of vehicles of any kind are subject to a 2 years time bar.
In any event, if the fraudulent or negligent act is considered as a criminal offence by the law and a longer time bar applies to that offence, such a longer time bar will also apply to the civil action.
Personal Injury Within 5 years of the day of the fraudulent or negligent act (Art. 2947 Civil Code). It is prescrizione, so it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.
Claims by seafarers are subject to a 2 years time bar from the date of disembarkation at the port of enlistment following the end or termination of the enlistment contract (Art 373 Code of Navigation). It is prescrizione, so it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run. In case of illness, the 2 years time limit starts to run when the illness has first been diagnosed. 
In any event, if the fraudulent or negligent act is considered as a criminal offence by the law and a longer time bar applies to that offence, such a longer time bar will also apply to the civil action.
Latent Damage Claims The time bar is 2 years from the day the claimant discovered the damage. It is prescrizione, so it can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run. However, the claimant must notify the contractor of the damage within 60 days of the discovery, failing which his claim will become time barred (decadenza, Art. 1667 Civil Code).
Claims against the shipbuilder for latent damages are subject to a 2 years time bar from the delivery of the ship (Art. 240 Code of Navigation).

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