Italy - Time Bars

Date: 19/01/2017
Author: Paolo Manica
Source: Studio Legale Mordiglia

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.  The Civil Code and 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 (which can be once again protected likewise), whilst decadenza can be avoided only by a 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 ClaimTime 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 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 can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.
If the contract is subject to the Hague Visby Rules, the one year time bar under Art. 3.6 will apply.

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 or the Italian Code of Navigation, 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 governing the carriage by sea and the relevant time bar should apply.

Contract claimsThe 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 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 ClaimsWithin 5 years of the day of the fraudulent or negligent act (Art. 2947 Civil Code). 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 apply to the civil action too.
Personal InjuryWithin 5 years of the day of the fraudulent or negligent act (Art. 2947 Civil Code). 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). This time bar too can be avoided by a notice of claim, which will make a fresh time bar period start to run.
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 apply to the civil action too.
Latent Damage ClaimsIn construction contracts, the time bar is 2 years from the day the claimant discovered the damage. 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). A time bar (decadenza) for the notification of the damage to the shipbuilder is normally agreed in the contract.

Return to Time Bars landing page

About the Author

Qualified lawyer since 1985, Paolo is a partner of Studio Legale Mordiglia of Genoa. He deals with all aspects of shipping practice for Italian and foreign clients and has wide experience in cargo claims, charterparty disputes, arrests, collisions, salvages, shipbuilding, sale and purchase, yachting and international trade law. He also assists foreign clients in equity and real estate investments in Italy. He is a regular speaker at seminars, published several articles and is co-author of Italy’s chapter in Shipping & International Trade Law.


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