Time Bars under Chinese Civil Law and Maritime Law
General rules on time bars under Chinese law
The General Principles of Civil Law of China provides that a general 2-year time bar is applicable for civil claims (Art. 135, The General Principles of Civil Law). The time bar starts counting from the day on which the claimant knows or ought to know that his right is infringed (Art. 137, The General Principles of Civil Law). Under no circumstance should a People’s Court support a claim which has exceeded 20 years from the date when the right is infringed.
According to Art. 140 of The General Principles of Civil Law, a time bar may be interrupted if:
The time bar will reinstate upon the occurrence of one of the above events. For maritime claims, a time bar can also be interrupted by arrest of ship.
During the last 6 months of the limitation period, the time bar can be suspended on the grounds that a force majeure or other obstacles prevent the claimant from exercising his right. The time bar shall resume on the day when the grounds for the suspension are eliminated.
There is no authority under Chinese law suggesting that a time bar can be extended by agreement. However, a People’s Court may exercise its discretion to extend the time bar under special circumstances (Art.137, The General Principles of Civil Law). It is noteworthy that such discretion will rarely be exercised by a court.
Time bars under Chinese civil law
Notwithstanding the general 2-year time bar, specific time bars may apply for certain types of claims under Chinese civil law. These specific time bars are summarised in the following table.
|Claims||Time Limit||Starting from...|
|Personal injury (Art. 136, The General Principles of Civil Law)||1 year|
|Sales of substandard products (Art. 136, The General Principles of Civil Law)||1 year|
|Delays in paying rent or refusal to pay rent (Art. 136, The General Principles of Civil Law)||1 year|
|Loss of or damage to belongings left in the custody of another person (Art. 136, The General Principles of Civil Law)||1 year||the day on which the claimant knows or ought to know that his right is infringed|
|Environmental damage (Art. 66, Environment Protection Law)||3 years|
|Contracts on international sale of goods (Art. 129, Contract Law)||4 years|
Contracts on technology import and export (Art. 129, Contract Law)
It is notable that the new General Principles of Civil Law of China has been drafted and is under review by the National People’s Congress. The new legislation aims to introduce a 3-year general time bar replacing the current 2-year time bar. The specific time bars summarised above may also be changed should the new legislation come into force.
Time bars under Chinese maritime law
For maritime claims, the Chinese Maritime Code (CMC) and other relevant legislation set up specific time bars with regard to different types of claims. These time bars are summarised in the following table.
|Claims||Time Limit||Starting from...|
|Claims under bills of lading/sea carriage contracts* (Art. 257, CMC)||1 year||the day on which the goods are delivered or should have been delivered by the carrier|
|Carrier’s claim against the shipper in relation to carriage of goods by sea** (Judicial Interpretation (Fashi  No.3))||1 year||the day on which the carrier knows or ought to know that his rights have been infringed|
|Recourse actions under bills of lading/sea carriage contract (Art. 257, CMC)||90 days||the day on which the person claiming for the recourse settles the claim or the day a copy of a court’s acceptance of the claim against that person is served|
|Claims regarding sea towage (Art.260, CMC)||1 year||the day on which the carrier knows or ought to know that his rights have been infringed|
|Claims regarding general average (Art.263, CMC)||1 year||the day on which the adjustment was finished|
|Carriage of passengers by sea (Art. 258, CMC)||2 years (3 years)|
Personal injury/damage to luggage - the day on which the passenger disembarks or should have disembarked;
Death of passenger - the day on which the passenger should have disembarked; if the death of passengers occurs after the disembarkation but is a result from an injury during the period of carriage by sea, counting from the day of the death of the passenger concerned, provided that this period does not exceed 3 years from the time of disembarkation
|Collision between ships (Art. 261, CMC)||2 years||the day on which the collision occurs|
|Recourse claims for third party liability arising from both-to-blame collisions (Art. 261, CMC)||1 year||the day on which the parties concerned jointly and severally pay the amount of compensation for the damage occurred|
|Salvage (Art. 262, CMC)||2 years||the day on which the salvage operation is completed|
Marine insurance (Art. 264, CMC)
|2 years||the day on which the peril insured against occurred|
|Charter party disputes (Art. 257, 259, CMC)||2 years||from the date when the claimant knows or ought to know that their rights have been infringed|
|Oil pollution damage (Art. 265, CMC)||3 years (6 years)||the day on which the pollution damage occurs (in no circumstances should exceed 6 years from the date of the pollution accident)|
|Claims against the China Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (Art.22, Administrative Measures on the Collection and Use of Compensation Funds for Vessel-Induced Oil Pollution Damage)||3 years (6 years)||the date when the pollution damage occurs (in no circumstances should exceed 6 years from the date of the pollution accident)|
|Maritime liens (Art. 29, CMC)***||1 year||the day on which the maritime lien incurs|
* For the purpose of time bar, a charter party is not regarded as a sea carriage contract. A different time bar applies to charter party disputes.
** Carrier’s claims against the shipper also include carrier’s claims for container demurrage. The time bar starts counting from the day after the free-time expiration date.
*** The limitation period for enforcing a maritime lien cannot be interrupted or suspended as a normal time bar.
Dingjing joined Thomas Miller in May 2016. Prior to this, he obtained a PhD degree in maritime law. Dingjing supports both underwriting and legal sectors with a particular focus on Chinese business and legal issues.