Law 561/2008 reforms prescription with respect to civil matters. It came into
effect on June 19 2008. The new law not only alters the existing legal text but
also acts as a true reform, redrafting all the provisions of the Civil Code on
prescription and creating a specific new heading.
However, the new law does not completely harmonize the prescription periods
applicable to civil and commercial matters as certain specific statutes of
limitation remain. This is particularly true in the field of product
The reform is designed to:
reduce the duration and quantity of negative prescription periods;
simplify and clarify the methods for the calculation of negative
regulate extension of the possibilities for contractually adapting
Reduction of the duration and quantity of negative prescription
periods The new law strives to reduce the number of statutes of
limitation without systematically diminishing their duration. In 2004 the Court
of Cassation listed no fewer than 250 different statutes of limitation running
from one month to 30 years.
The principal reform is a decrease from 30 years to five years for the
ordinary legal negative prescription period, including in commercial matters.
Liability claims are now in principle subject to the same limitation period of
five years, whether the grounds are contractual (which previously had a
prescription period of 30 years, or 10 years in commercial matters) or
non-contractual (in which case the prescription period was 10 years).
However, different prescription periods still apply in certain specific
cases, notably in product liability matters. For example, the new text provides
for a prescription period of 10 years for claims arising out of an event that
caused bodily harm.
Other specific provisions remain applicable, such as Article 1648 of the
code, which provides for a two-year prescription period for claims against
sellers resulting from hidden defects. Article 1386-17, which implemented the EU
Product Liability Directive, also remains applicable and provides for a
prescription period of three years for actions against producers in the event of
damage caused by a defective product.
Simplification and clarification of the methods for calculating
negative prescriptions The ordinary legal prescription period
runs from the date on which the holder of a right learnt or should have become
aware of the facts on which its claim is based, except in specific circumstances
(eg, force majeure). That was the rule for claims based on a
hidden defect in a product. The reform has extended this rule to all claims
based on generic law.
However, a few specific rules are maintained with respect to the calculation
of prescriptions. For claims resulting from an event that caused bodily harm,
the prescription period of 10 years runs from the date on which the damage
suffered is stable.
Postponement Prescription periods are
the filing of a claim;
the debtor's acknowledgement of the right of the party against which the
prescription period runs; or
any compulsory enforcement action.
When a prescription period is interrupted, the time previously elapsed is
disregarded and the same prescription period starts again. This is new insofar
as in certain circumstances under the previous provisions, the second period
could differ from the first. When a first prescription period of two years was
interrupted by the filing of a summons requesting the appointment of an expert
in a matter relating to a hidden product defect, the new prescription period
that started from the filing of the expert's report was the ordinary period (ie,
10 years in commercial matters). Under the new law, the second prescription is
of the same duration as the first (ie, two years).
Moreover, postponement of the starting point and the suspension or
interruption of the prescription period can no longer have the effect of
carrying the negative prescription period beyond 20 years as from the day of the
creation of the right. This limit applies to all prescription periods unless
provided otherwise. With regards to product liability matters, such derogation
applies to claims against producers of a defective product where a claim is
extinguished 10 years after the product which caused the damage was put into
Application to current prescription periods and pending
claims The new provisions to extend the duration of a
prescription period apply to prescription periods already running as of June 19
2008 (ie, prescription periods that had not expired on that date). The time that
has already elapsed is taken into account.
The new provisions to reduce the duration of the prescription period apply to
prescriptions as of June 19 2008. However, the total duration of a prescription
period cannot exceed the duration set by the previous provisions.
Claims brought before June 19 2008 will be dealt with and judged according to
the previous law, which will apply in the same manner before both the courts of
appeal and the Court of Cassation.
The reform of June 17 2008 simplified and harmonized the different
prescription rules by significantly reducing the number of different statutes of
limitation. However, in the field of product liability several prescription
periods still apply, including some with different starting points. The duration
of the prescription period and the date from which it runs still depend on
factors such as the grounds on which the action is brought and the nature of the