What is a prescription period?

Prescription is a legal principle that sets a time limit for bringing legal claims. It aims to promote legal certainty and prevent claims from being pursued indefinitely.

Time Limits for Claims

Different types of claims have specific time limits for prescription. It is essential to be aware of these time limits to protect your rights and ensure timely action.

Prescription Act

Prescription in South Africa is primarily governed by the Prescription Act of 1969. This act provides guidelines on prescription periods for various types of claims.

Exceptions and Special Cases

  • Personal Injury Claims: Personal injury claims must generally be brought within three years from the date the injury was sustained or discovered.
  • Minors: If the injured person is a minor (under the age of 18) at the time of the incident, the prescription period may be extended. The three-year period will only commence once they turn 18, giving them an opportunity to bring a claim until they reach the age of 21.
  • Mental Incapacity: If the injured person is mentally incapacitated, the prescription period may also be extended. The three-year period will only commence once they regain mental capacity.
  • Debt Claims: Most debts have a three-year prescription period from the date the debt became due. However, some debts, such as mortgage bonds or tax-related claims, may have different prescription periods.
  • Claims against the State: Claims against the State, including medical negligence or unlawful arrest, typically have a three year prescription period from the date of becoming aware of the damage or the identity of the responsible party.

The Importance of Timely Action & Consequences of Non-Compliance

If a claim is not brought within the prescribed time period:

  • Time-Barred: The claim becomes time-barred, meaning it cannot be pursued further in court. The defendant can raise prescription as a defence, and the court will likely dismiss the claim.
  • Loss of Rights: Failing to meet the prescription deadline may result in the loss of legal rights to seek compensation or other remedies related to the claim.
  • Legal Certainty: Prescription promotes legal certainty by ensuring claims are pursued promptly, avoiding situations where claims are brought long after the evidence has deteriorated or memories have faded.

Interrupting Prescription

Prescription can be interrupted, meaning the time limit restarts. Common methods of interrupting prescription include acknowledging the debt or initiating legal proceedings.

Seeking Legal Advice

Prescription laws can be complex, and each case may have unique circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or require assistance, it is recommended to consult with a qualified attorney who can provide expert guidance.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The information provided is based on general principles and may not reflect the latest updates or amendments to the law. For accurate legal advice, please consult with a qualified attorney.

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