Statute of limitation means, that a legal claim is no longer enforceable in court, after a certain period of time elapses. This principle is intended to ensure that legal disputes are resolved in a timely manner and to protect debtors from the risk of being sued for events that occurred years ago, where the evidence may be difficult to obtain.
Once the period of time (called statute-barring period) elapses, the legal subject loses his right to a legal claim, even though the existence of the right itself carries on. The obligation only transforms itself into a »natural obligation«, which can still be fulfilled voluntarily – this means, that if the debtor ends up fulfilling his natural obligation, the creditor does not get unjustly enriched.
In general, (civil) rights are subjected to the statute of limitation, but there are some exceptions to this rule. One example of that would be the property rights claims – legal owners can always file claims, that their property rights got disturbed, regardless of how long ago that had happened.
The beginning and the end of the statute-barring period
The period for the statute-barring begins on the first day, after the day the creditor held the right to demand the performance of the obligation, unless stipulated otherwise by law.
One example of such an exception would be (so called) “household claims« (e.g.claims for supplied electricity, if the supply was carried out for the needs of a household – more examples of such claims can be found in paragraph I of art. 355 of Obligation code) – in these cases, the statue-barring period begins on the 1st of January of a year, which follows the year, in which the claim was due.
(An example of a household claim exception: Debtor A was in default on the 15th of May 2022, Debtor B was in default on the 15th of November 2022. In both cases, the statute-barring period began on the 1st of January of 2023).
The statute-barring period ends, when the last day of a period, stipulated in the statute of limitations, passes.
Active role of the debtor
Once the statute-barring period ends, the debtor himself has to invoke the occurrence of statute-barring, which means that he will have to prove, that the conditions for statute of limitations are met. Paragraph III of art. 335 of Obligation code specifically states, that the court may not take notice of statute-barring, if the debtor makes no reference thereto. This means, that the statute-barring actually occurs when two conditions are cumulatively fulfilled:
- The last day of the period, stipulated in the statute of limitations passes
- The debtor himself invokes the statute of limitation
Cogent nature of the statute of limitation
Articles of the Obligation code, regarding statute-barring periods, have a nature of cogent law, so the involved parties cannot agree to shorten or extend the statute-barring period. This is specifically stated in the paragraph I of art. 339 of Obligation code states that it is not possible to stipulate a longer or a shorter statute-barring period, than the one stipulated in the statute of limitations.
Paragraph II of art. 339 of Obligation code also states, that (through a contractual agreement) it is not possible to stipulate, that some time will be discounted from the statute-barring period.
Length of the statute-barring period
Statute-barring periods can be divided into two main groups: general statute-barring period and the special statute-barring periods.
General statute-barring period
Claims become statute-barred after five years, unless a different period is stipulated by the statute of limitations. Slovenian general statute-barring period is therefore relatively short, compared to other legal systems.
Special statute-barring period and tort law
Paragraphs I and II of Article 352 of Obligations code state: the compensation claims for damage inflicted, shall become statute-barred, three years, after the injured party learnt of the damage and of the person who inflicted it, but shall always become statute-barred five years after the damage occurred. This means, that the statute of limitations can always occur, once the objective period of five years passes, regardless of the fact, if the injured party did or did not learn of the damage or of the person, who inflicted it.
Other special statute-barring periods
Statute-barring period for household claims (e.g. claims for supplied electricity, if the supply was carried out for the needs of a household, radio and television claims for station reception, et. al.) is one year (paragraph I of art. 355 of Obligation code). These types of claims are therefore unique from two points of view: The start of the state-barring period is stipulated differently and also the state-barring period is much shorter.
Statute-barring period for judicial obligations (claims determined by a final court ruling, by other relevant authority, etc.) is ten years (art. 356 of Obligation code). This means, that once the court (or an arbitration senate) recognises, that the creditor’s claim was justified, he then has 10 years, to start a judgement enforcement procedure, in case the debtor does not fulfil his obligation, that was imposed in the judgement.
Paragraph I of art. 349 states, that claims from commercial contracts and claims for the return of expenditure, arising in connection with such contracts, become statute-barred after three years. When it comes to B2B contracts, the legislator assumes, that creditors would be more interested in claiming their rights as soon as possible (in order to protect their businesses), so therefore, they are forced, to start this claiming process more quickly. This statute-barring period can be perceived as another general limitation period, but only for B2B relations, since the Obligation code also stipulates other, more specific, state-barring periods for specific B2B contracts.
Suspension of Statute-Barring
Statute of limitations forces creditors, to file their claims before the courts in a certain period, in order to enforce their rights. Sometimes the creditor cannot or does not want to file his claim, during the statute-barring period, due to subjective reasons (e.g. when there are claims between spouses or between a parent and his child while the parental right still lasts,) or objective reasons (e.g., filling of a claim during insurmountable obstacles, when the creditor is unable to demand the performance of the obligation through the court, …)
In these cases, the statute barring period does not run, until the reason ends – once such grounds cease, the statute-barring period resumes and the time that had passed before the suspension, gets counted towards the period, stipulated by the statute of limitations.
Discontinuance of Statue-barring
Discontinuance of Statute-barring on the other hand means, that once the discontinuance happens, the statute-barring period starts running again from the beginning. This can only happen in a few cases.
Recognition of the claim
One set of such examples would be the scenarios, in which the debtor recognized the claim (art. 364 of Obligations Code). Such a one-sided statement can be made in any form (it is not demanded to a statement before a court, it is not even demanded to give it in writing). A statement can also be made conclusively – by the debtor’s act, which would indicate the recognition of the claim (for example if the debtor performed a part of the obligation).
Filling of the claim
The most important reason for the discontinuance of statute-barring is the filling of the claim, within the statute-barring period (art. 365 of Obligations Code), an out-of court demand is not sufficient enough, because art. 368. Of Obligation Code specifically states, that the creditor demanding verbally or in writing that the debtor perform the obligation shall not suffice for the discontinuance of statute-barring.
If the court (or e.g. an arbitration senate) decides, that the creditor’s claim was justified, he then has 10 years to start an enforcement procedure, in case the debtor still does not fulfil his obligation, imposed in the court’s judgement.
If the creditor’s claim is denied or refused, it is deemed, as if the discontinuance never happened, which means, that creditors can lose their right to a legal claim, if their first claim is rejected and the statute-barring period ends during this unsucessfull trial process.
The article presentes some aspects of one of the most basic and at the same time one of the most important institutes of (civil) law. Articles of the Obligation code, regarding the statute of limitation, demand an active role of both the creditor and the debtor. On one hand, they force the creditor, to file a claim in court in a certain period of time, if he wants his right to be protected by the state (which ensures the enforcement of his right through a judgement). On the other hand, it is the debtor, who has to pay attention, to when the statute of limitation actually occurs, since it is not the courts duty to be focused on that ex officio.
Statute of limitation in Slovenian (civil) law is in general similarly stipulated and used as in other (European) legal systems.
attorney Anton Grilc