Belgium - Time Bars

Time Bars under Belgian civil law and Belgian maritime law

The rules on the time bar of civil actions are laid down in Book III, Title XX of the Belgian Civil Code ("BCC"). Specific time limits applicable to maritime and inland navigation are defined in the Belgian Maritime Law ("BML") incorporated in Book II, Title IX of the Belgian Code of Commerce.

Art. 2019 BCC defines the time bar as a way to acquire or to discharge oneself by a certain lapse of time, and under conditions defined by the law. The prevailing opinion of the Belgian courts is that the time bar extinguishes the action, not the right, except in specific cases provided by the law (e.g.: the time bar of the legal action against the carrier under a bill of lading extinguishes the right of the claimant (art. 91, A, § III, 6° BML)).

The causes interrupting the time bar are defined in art. 2244 et seq. BCC:

  • the commencement of a judicial action; the writ of summons interrupts the time bar until a definitive judgment is pronounced or until the closure of the file (art. 2244,§ 1, subpar. 1 BCC); the writ of summons even against an incompetent judge interrupts the time bar (art. 2246 BCC); if the writ of summons is declared null and void or if the legal action is rejected, the interruption is considered as invalid (art. 2247 BCC);
  • a formal notice by registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt sent by a lawyer or a court bailiff; a new time limit of one year will then start to run, however the claim will not become time barred before the initial time limit provided by the law has elapsed; if the initial time limit provided by the law is shorter than one year, the period of time extension will be the same as the initial time limit (art. 2244, § 2 BCC);
  • the recognition by the debtor of the right of the creditor (art. 2248 BCC);
  • the interruption of the time bar towards the main debtor interrupts the time bar towards the guarantor (art. 2250 BCC).

Time limits can be extended if the parties so agree. Time extensions can be conditional, provided the condition added to the time extension is not contrary to the public order (e.g.: divergent decisions were made by the maritime divisions of the Antwerp court of commerce on the validity of time extensions granted under the express condition the claim will be brought before the judge designated in the bill of lading, some decisions declaring the condition valid, as it had been accepted, and the claim time barred, other decisions declaring the condition invalid, although accepted, as contrary to the public order, and the time limit validly interrupted by the legal action before the Antwerp court).

Time limits under the Belgian civil law:

Contract claims
Art. 2262 bis § 1, subpar. 1 BCC

Within 10 years of the day the obligation is due or the day of the breach of the contract.

Claims in tort
Art.2262 bis § 1, subpar. 2 and 3 BCC

Within 5 years of the day the aggrieved party has cognizance of the damage or of its aggravation and of the identity of the person responsible for the damage. In any case within 20 years of  the day of the incident.

Personal injury, death Art.2262bis § 1, subpar. 2 and 3 BCC

See claims in tort above.

Industrial accident
Art. 69 of the law on industrial accidents

Within 3 years of the day of the accident for claims in indemnity for work disability, within 3 years of the day of the decease for claims in indemnity by the right holders of the victim.

Damage to property (FFO) Art. 2262 bis § 1, subpar. 2 and 3 BCC

See claims in tort above.

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