When does the clock start ticking on a claim of professional negligence?
This was a question that was recently considered by the Court of Appeal in London in a case where a personal injury claim was seemingly settled prematurely.
The claimant was seriously injured in a road traffic accident in 2002. His claim was settled for £150,000 in 2009 on “a full and final” basis.
He was advised that this was his only option, other than going to trial. A medical expert had recommended a plastic surgeon’s report. His solicitors settled the case without one.
Post-settlement, the claimant’s condition deteriorated significantly. In 2017, his leg was amputated beneath the knee.
Having sought fresh legal advice, the claimant sued his former solicitors in 2019. The basis of his claim was that a plastic surgeon would have highlighted the risk of amputation. This would have made a case for provisional rather than “full and final” damages. As a result, the claimant was not advised of the possibility of provisional damages, which would have been awarded at trial.
In their defence, the solicitors relied, as a preliminary point, on the Limitation Act 1980. The trial judge, however, found for the claimant on the basis he did not know about his cause of action against the defendants until after January 2017.
On appeal, Lady Justice Thirlwall observed:
The primary limitation period for bringing an action against the defendants was six years from the date of the settlement agreement by operation of …[the] Limitation Act 1980. That period expired [in] 2015. The claim was issued [in] 2019, four years out of time.per Thirlwall LJ at 
The defendants contended that the claimant had the necessary knowledge at settlement in 2009. Alternatively, his additional knowledge acquired in 2016 gave rise to a limitation period which would have expired before proceedings were issued.
The trial judge found on the facts that the claimant’s knowledge “…was no earlier than January 2017, less than three years before the issue of proceedings.”
The claimant must prove that his date of knowledge is within three years of the issue of proceedings. A date no earlier than 17 January 2017 satisfies that requirement in this case. No greater precision is required.per Thirlwall LJ at