Changes to the interruption of the statute of limitations

Short statutes of limitations. The statutes of limitations in many cases are too short. This is the case, for example, in cases involving international carriage. Within the one-year statute of limitations period resulting from the CMR Convention, it is often impossible to establish the circumstances in which the damage occurred, its extent or the entities obliged to compensate for it. These are mostly proceedings involving international carriers, freight forwarders, insurers, often resolved with the participation of foreign law enforcement authorities or the judiciary. In many cases, the extension of the statute of limitations by the will of the parties is in the interest of all parties to the contractual relationship, as it prevents premature, often unnecessary litigation.

Agreements regarding the length of limitation periods. Unlike in other legal systems, in Poland, only in the scope of claims regulated by the Maritime Code it is possible to extend the period of limitation by the will of the parties (article 8 § 1 of the Maritime Code)

A solution to this situation was the use by creditors of the institution application for a summons to a conciliation attempt, i. e. conciliation procedure, in order to interrupt the course of the statute of limitations.

Change in Law. The Journal of Laws of December 29, 2021 announced the contents of the Act of December 2 2021 on amending among others the Act - Civil Code and the Act - Civil Procedure Code. The introduced amendment concerns, among other things, changes in legal effects of filing an application for a summons to a conciliation attempt in the area of limitation of claims. The changes will take effect on June 30, 2022.

Functions of a summons to a conciliatory attempt. Pursuant to the hitherto prevailing wording of art. 123 § 1 item 1) of the Civil Code, the course of the statute of limitations is interrupted by any action before a court or other authority appointed to hear cases or enforce claims of a given type or before an arbitration court, undertaken directly to assert or establish, or satisfy or secure a claim. Until now, such an action before the court was also understood as an application for a summons to a conciliation attempt, otherwise known as the conciliation procedure, as provided for in Article 184 et seq. of the Civil Procedure Code.

The above-mentioned mechanism as a way to interrupt the course of the statute of limitations period was often used, perhaps also abused, by creditors who wished to protect their claims against the statute of limitations and at the same time, for various reasons, were unwilling or unable to take legal action.

Changes in the approach to settlement attempts. Until a few years, a trend can be observed in the actions of the legislator and judicature to make it more difficult for creditors to use conciliation to interrupt the statute of limitations. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the fixed fee on the application to initiate these proceedings and then the introduction of the relative fee. In the judicature, in turn, there were views that subsequent applications of a creditor for a summons to a conciliation attempt, apart from the first application, no longer have the effect of interrupting the course of the statute of limitations (Supreme Court judgment of 28 January 2016, III CSK 50/15; Supreme Court judgment of 19 February 2016, V CSK 365/15; Supreme Court judgment of 6 July 2016, IV CSK 697/15; judgment of the Supreme Court of 10 January 2017, V CSK 204/16). There was also an opinion that in each case the court must examine whether the application is not, as an abuse of procedural rights, contrary to morality (Article 3 of the CPC), and such a request should not be rejected (Supreme Court judgment of 12 March 2020, IV CSK 582/18).

A continuation of the trend described above is the adopted amendment to the Civil Code. According to the amended wording of Article 121 of the Civil Code, a conciliation attempt will only suspend (and not interrupt) the running of the statute of limitations for the duration of the conciliation proceedings.

Assessing the impact of the new regulation. The adopted amendment, without simultaneously introducing into the system of civil law the possibility of agreeing on the length of the statute of limitations period after the occurrence of the event from which the claim arose, similarly to Article 8. 1 of the Maritime Code, should be assessed critically. The inability to interrupt the statute of limitations will create a great deal of premature and unnecessary litigation.